Sunday, March 15, 2009

Many Businesses Calling For Health Insurance Reform

A Reuters article by Donna Smith reports that businesses throughout America are in favor of some type of health insurance reform. Employers claim that they are at a disadvantage globally; they typically have to provide health insurance to their employees (while not legally required, it's a generally accepted inevitability for most large employers), as opposed to most industrialized nations that provide government-subsidized health care. Major economic competitors (United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, France, and Germany) were found to spend 63 cents for every $1 America spends on health care, while fast-developing economies like China, India, and Brazil spend only 15 cents per dollar.

The Business Roundtable, a consortium of the largest U.S. companies, worries that American companies will be less able to survive the recession as a result of these disparities in health care costs. They also point to evidence that employees in the United States are less healthy than those in other nations! Unhealthier employees could end up being less efficient.

Recommendations by the group are similar some proposed by the Barack Obama administration, including health insurance mandates and the use of technology to increase efficiency and decrease the cost of care. The Business Roundtable opposes dominant government-run health insurance plans, but supports some public aid for those unable to afford insurance.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, March 02, 2009

Obama Picks Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius The Associated Press' Richard Alonzo-Zaldivar reports that President Barack Obama has chosen Kansas Governor and Democrat Kathleen Sebelius as his Secretary of Health and Human Services. She is a former state insurance commissioner who is knowledgeable about the complexities surrounding health care and insurance issues and is known for her ability to reach across the aisle to accomplish goals. 

However, she does not have as many connections in Congress as former nominee Tom Daschle. As a result, Obama is also planning to name a seperate person as the head of a White House health care reform department; Daschle was set to fill both posts simultaneously. She also has to be confirmed by Congress, which seems likely due to the support she has recieved from both consumer advocates and the health insurance industry.

HHS is responsible for both federal government-sponsored health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid. Part of Sebelius' job will be to solve the problem of Medicare's dwindling finances and inefficiency while still expanding health care coverage to more Americans.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 27, 2009

Q&A: Health Care and the Obama Budget

President Obama has announced his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, and health care is a major priority. Robert Pear details the budget in The New York Times. Here are some answers to questions you may have about health insurance and the budget.

Q: How will he expand medical coverage to the uninsured?
A: Details are vague right now; he says he'll discuss it with Congress over the next year. He has called for a $634 billion reserve fund to be set aside for that purpose.

Q: Is there increased funding for medical research in the budget?
A: Yes; $6 billion will go to the National Institutes of Health for cancer research, and he aims to eventually double that amount. More funding will also go to the Food and Drug Administration to speed up research that will allow cheaper generic drugs to reach the market faster.

Q: Are there any provisions specific to women's health?
A: The budget would expand eligibility for family planning services (e.g. birth control) to women on Medicaid.

Q: How will health care reform be paid for?
A: Obama plans to cut spending over the next decade in certain areas to cover it:
  1. Requiring pharmaceutical companies to give greater discounts to Medicaid (22% instead of the current 15%)
  2. Reducing Medicare payments to health insurance companies that provide comprehensive care, such as Medicare Advantage plans
  3. Cutting payments to home health agencies
  4. Giving hospitals "bundled payments" that cover care provided by home health agencies and nursing homes for the following month after they leave the hospital, in addition to the hospital's care itself. Payments will be cut to hospitals that re-admit too many of their patients during the first 30 days.
  5. Medicare beneficiaries with higher incomes will see their prescription drug coverage premiums increase.
Q: About how much money will that free up in total?
A: Obama's estimates claim that those provisions will save at least $239 billion.

Q: What about doctors and Medicare? Will their payments be cut?
A: It seems like they won't be. Even though current laws call for a reduction in payments, sources say that Congress will make sure that doctors are not affected.

Keep in mind that this budget probably won't pass as is and will likely see significant changes when debated by Congress. Not to mention, various lobbyist groups have already expressed their opposition to some of these proposals.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Health Care and the Stimulus Package

The recently passed financial stimulus includes several measures that will increase federal funding for health care in the United States. Most notably, COBRA coverage for the laid off will be subsidized by 65% for nine months, which will help 7 million retain health insurance at a cost of almost $25 billion.

Other provisions in the stimulus package include:

  • Investments in health care information technology infrastructure to encourage greater adoption of electronic health records; this will include Medicaid and Medicare incentives. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this will save the government and health care industry over $12 billion. ($19 billion cost)
  • Funding for training programs to encourage doctors to practice in under-served locations ($500 million)
  • Community Health Centers in rural and urban areas that are under-served by doctors and serve many uninsured individuals will also receive funding ($500 million)
  • An unknown amount of funding will go to several Cabinet departments (including the Centers for Disease Control, Veteran's Health Administration, Indian Health Service, Department of Defense, and the National Institutes of Health) in order to build and repaid health care facilities, invest in preventative health care, and research health care strategies.
Many Democrats have been calling for health care reform, and these items might be part of that process.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, February 09, 2009

Daschle Out For Obama Administration's Health Care Reform Position

Recently, Tom Daschle took himself out of consideration as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration. Tthe president’s plans to overhaul the country’s health care system could lose momentum and be significantly delayed.  Daschle was a clear health care expert and carried quite a bit of political influence as a former Senate majority leader.  The current health care reform plan was built around Daschle steering the ship.

Many supports say that the sudden change will not derail the efforts for health care reform, but Daschle is widely recognized as being an authority regarding health and health reform issues.

The leading candidates to fill the position are:

  • Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius;
  • U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut;
  • Mark McClellan, former head of the Food and Drug Administration;
  • and former Democratic Party chief and Doctor Howard Dean.
It seems like a good list, but which one would do the best job? Maybe Obama will choose someone else entirely.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, January 23, 2009

Senate, House Consider COBRA Health Insurance Subsidies

As part of the financial stimulus, the Senate Finance Committee is considering a temporary subsidy for a portion of COBRA health insurance premiums for laid-off worker, says Jerry Geisel of Business Insurance. People who have been laid off (or will be let go) from September 1st, 2008 until December 31st of this year are eligible. The proposal entails the federal government paying 65% of premiums for up to nine months.
Currently, many former employees end up uninsured because they are unable to pay the significantly higher charges under COBRA compared to their former employer-based insurance plans. That is because employers no longer chip in a portion of the insurance costs for former employees. COBRA also charges a percentage fee on top of that! It isn't used as much as much as it could be as a result.
The House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, is deliberating a 12-month subsidy for health insurance premiums under COBRA.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Obama Wants to Provide Federal Health Insurance Assistant to Laid-Off Workers

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan proposed by President-Elect Barack Obama includes as an economic jump-start includes a possible two-year expansion of Medicaid, as well as subsidies for employers who provide continued coverage for retired and laid off workers. These proposed measures were outlined in the Insurance and Financial Advisor.

Obama, along with Congressional Democrats, wants to expand federal insurance assistance by opening Medicaid enrollment to individuals laid off from jobs that didn't provide health insurance coverage.

In addition, they are proposing that employers be subsidized for the mandated COBRA coverage they must provide to former employees and their dependents.

These policies are intended solely as a temporary fix to get the U.S. out of the current recession, and would expire in two years if enacted. Obama is currently in talks with congressional leaders regarding his economic stimulus plan, prior to his inaguration on January 20th.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Daschle: Obama's Learned From Clinton's Mistakes

Kevin Freking from the Associated Press recently wrote that newly appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services (and leader of the Transition's Health Policy Team) Tom Daschle is certain that President-Elect Barack Obama will be more successful in enacting health care reform than Bill Clinton was 15 years ago. Clinton's infamous failure in ensuring affordable health insurance for all Americans has been blamed on procrastination that wasted momentum and allowed other issues to distract from health care issues.

According to Kevin and Daschle, another flaw of the Clinton attempt at universal coverage was its secrecy. This time around, the Obama administration is asking for the American public's experiences with their health insurance. The transition team is encouraging people to hold health care community discussions throughout the country later this month to gather opinions.

Labels: , , , , , ,