Friday, June 19, 2009

Senate Finance Committee Releases Details of HCR Plan

The Senate Finance Committee, one of 2 key committees in the Senate charged with developing health care reform legislation, has released an outline of its new health care proposal. You can view the document (PDF) here. Columnist Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who has been following the health care reform discussion closely, discusses the new plan here.

Contrary to prior discussions, the Finance Committee plan doesn't include a public option - the option of allowing consumers and employers to purchase health insurance from a plan administered by the federal government similar to Medicaid. Many analysts agree that such a plan would be able to provide the same coverage as private insurance at a lower cost and would be essential in keeping the health insurance market competitive.

Some key items:

  • Mandates individuals purchase health insurance. It allows exceptions if the cost of insurance exceeds 15% of annual income
  • Requires insurance companies to cover everyone who applies, regardless of pre-existing conditions, etc.
  • No health status rating - meaning no higher prices based on health condition
  • Proposes 4 levels of insurance coverage plans and limits some out of pocket costs
  • Offers federal subsidy on insurance premiums via tax credit to individuals and families earning up to 300% of the FPL.
  • Offers small businesses tax credits for 3 yrs to help pay for group insurance for employees.
  • Increases Medicaid eligibility to include parents and childless adults at or below 100% of FPL (like most states, Ohio doesn't allow childless adults to be eligible for Medicaid) Eligibility increases will be phased in over 3 years and states will get some help during that period to pay their share of Medicaid.
On quick review, the plan has some problems. It places a financial burden on states by increasing Medicaid eligibility at a time when most states are having budget problems. It also has too many loopholes that make insurance coverage unaffordable for low income people. There's an exception to the individual mandate that allows people to opt out of purchasing insurance if they can't afford it. Seems like it would make more sense to make it more affordable for them.

While there are incentives for employers to provide health coverage for their employees, there are also big loopholes that allow them to avoid penalties if they don't.

Cost control for both health insurance premiums and health care costs appears to be based solely on trust. While there are caps on the amount of premiums low to middle income individuals must pay, they aren't real caps. Premium costs above 15% of a person's annual income will be absorbed by the federal government through tax cuts. Its a pass-through of the premium cost, not a real price cap.

Here's hoping the Senate HELP Committee can come up with a better proposal. The House has already agreed their version of HCR will include a public option.

Tell us what you think....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sen. Sherrod Brown Introduces HC Bill

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown has co-sponsored a bill (S. 1278) with WV Senator Jay Rockefeller to create the Consumer's Choice Health Plan - a public health insurance plan that provides an affordable and accountable health insurance option for consumers.

Link to Bill Text

It creates a public health insurance plan option that can compete with private health insurance plans to provide low cost, quality health insurance coverage to everyone in the US.

It provides comprehensive health care coverage for adults and children, regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Individuals and employers can enroll in the plan, its open to everyone.

All health care providers who provide health care services under Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP will also participate in the Consumer's Choice Plan.

The Consumer's Choice Plan will adopt Medicare reforms - allowing patients to access the same quality, coordinated care now provided to Medicare patients.

The Consumer's Choice Plan will provide the same subsidies as the Health Exchange plan to help individuals and employers pay for premiums.

All aspects of the Consumer's Choice Plan will be transparent and enrollees will receive a personal annual statement about the services they received and payments made in the previous year.

Enrollees will receive all the information they need about their benefits coverage, providers in their area, and fee schedules.

The Plan will be managed by the Dept. of Health & Human Services and will be overseen by a newly created non-profit organization called "America's Health Insurance Trust". The Trust will be governed by board members, including members representing consumers. Individuals affiliated with private health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and others who may have a similar conflict of interest will not be allowed to serve on the board.

It sounds like an interesting plan, one worth considering and one likely to provide much cheaper health insurance coverage to Americans.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Affordable Health Choices Act - On the Move

The Affordable Health Choices Act, the template for health care reform promoted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is scheduled for markup today.

You can view the markup hearing at Sen. Chris Dodd's web site here:

This markup hearing is critical because there is a possibility that changes could be made to the Act which would water down provisions to make insurance affordable and available to everyone.

More information on the AHCC Act here

Link to text of the bill here

Northern Ohio Breast Cancer Coalition supports the inclusion of a strong public insurance option to provide consumers with affordable choices in health care insurance plans. A well funded, well regulated government controlled health insurance plan that provides coverage for all, similar to Medicare, should be an available choice for consumers and businesses. A public option is essential to:

  • ensuring competition among health insurance providers and
  • lowering health care costs for the long term

Here's hoping we don't see good provisions for a public option watered down or deleted during this markup session.

Stay tuned for action alerts.