Sunday, August 30, 2009

America, the last holdout

Health care abroad: the myths

Excerpts from an article in The Oregonian

by T.R. Reid, guest opinion
Saturday August 29, 2009, 5:45 PM

As Americans search for the cure to what ails our health care system, we've overlooked an invaluable source of ideas and solutions: the rest of the world. All the other industrialized democracies have faced problems like ours, yet they've found ways to cover everybody -- and still spend far less than we do.

I've traveled the world from Oslo to Osaka to see how other developed democracies provide health care. Instead of dismissing these models as "socialist," we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems. To do that, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad:

1. It's all socialized medicine out there.

Not so. Some countries, such as Britain, New Zealand and Cuba, do provide health care in government hospitals, with the government paying the bills. Others -- for instance, Canada and Taiwan -- rely on private-sector providers, paid for by government-run insurance. But many wealthy countries -- including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland -- provide universal coverage using private doctors, private hospitals and private insurance plans.

2. Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.

Generally, no. Germans can sign up for any of the nation's 200 private health insurance plans -- a broader choice than any American has. If a German doesn't like her insurance company, she can switch to another, with no increase in premium. The Swiss, too, can choose any insurance plan in the country.

3. Foreign health care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.

Much less so than here. It may seem to Americans that U.S.-style free enterprise -- private-sector, for-profit health insurance -- is naturally the most cost-effective way to pay for health care. But in fact, all the other payment systems are more efficient than ours.

4. Cost controls stifle innovation.

False. The United States is home to groundbreaking medical research, but so are other countries with much lower cost structures. Any American who's had a hip or knee replacement is standing on French innovation. Deep-brain stimulation to treat depression is a Canadian breakthrough. Many of the wonder drugs promoted endlessly on American television, including Viagra, come from British, Swiss or Japanese labs.

5. Health insurance has to be cruel.

Not really. American health insurance companies routinely reject applicants with a "pre-existing condition" -- precisely the people most likely to need the insurers' services. Foreign health insurance companies, in contrast, must accept all applicants, and they can't cancel as long as you pay your premiums. The plans are required to pay any claim submitted by a doctor or hospital (or health spa), usually within tight time limits.

The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people's medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.

In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does. In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.

Given our remarkable medical assets -- the best-educated doctors and nurses, the most advanced hospitals, world-class research -- the United States could be, and should be, the best in the world. To get there, though, we have to be willing to learn some lessons about healthcare administration from the other industrialized democracies.

Copyright: 2009, The Washington Post

T.R. Reid, a former Washington Post reporter, is the author of "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care."

Cheap Insurance for expensive Classic Cars

Excerpts from anLA Times article by

Got a classic car, like a 1960s-era Mustang or a gull-wing Mercedes? You could be paying too much to insure it.

Roughly half of classic car owners put their vehicles on a standard auto insurance policy without realizing that they could be paying too much for inadequate coverage.

"A lot of people who are into car collecting as a hobby might not be paying attention to things like insurance," he said. "They just call their agent and add the car to their policy."

Insuring a classic with a traditional auto policy is a mistake for various reasons, Heacock said.

For one, traditional insurance is based on the notion that a car’s value will decrease over time. But a classic car is likely to appreciate, especially if you’re restoring it. You don’t want to get a depreciated value if something happens to your pristine 1967 Jaguar XKE, he noted. But if you have a standard policy, that’s generally what you’ll get.

When buying a classic car insurance policy, which is offered by dozens of specialized companies nationwide, you and the insurer agree to the car’s replacement value. That price will be based on your assessment of the car’s value and the price the car has brought at auction and in collectors’ sales. If the car is destroyed, you’ll get that agreed-to value without having to dicker about depreciation.

It may seem counterintuitive that the premiums would be lower on a policy that provides a higher replacement cost. But the reason is simple: Classic and collectible cars are pampered (and driven infrequently and carefully).

How much cheaper is classic car insurance? The answer varies widely based on the insurer and vehicle.

A State Farm spokesman said it might cost $470 annually to cover a 1968 Camaro with a traditional policy — with a lot of caveats: the driver has 30 years of experience, multiple discounts and a perfect driving record.

Why? Because State Farm uses dozens of factors to price your policy, while Heacock has a simpler model. It looks mainly at the car’s value and how it is going to be used. If you’re driving it solely in parades and to and from auto shows, the chance of getting T-boned on the highway — or slamming into another driver — is pretty slim, Heacock said.

The low prices come with plenty of restrictions, however. Heacock doesn’t cover youthful drivers. (Don’t apply if you’re younger than 30.) The car can’t be driven more than 5,000 miles a year, and it had better have a home in the garage, not in the driveway or yard. State Farm specifies that it’s insuring you to drive in parades and to car shows — not to work or to the supermarket.

"We’re not looking to insure your second car," Heacock said. "We’re only interested in insuring cars that are getting some extra attention."

What isn’t necessarily required to secure classic car insurance is an expensive antique vehicle. If a car draws enthusiasts and is driven like a collectible, it can probably be insured like a collectible, said Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California and an avowed car buff.

But the right insurer and policy are going to vary based on the type of car you have and how (or whether) you drive it.

This is a highly specialized market, Miller noted. Some companies specialize in antique cars, some in muscle cars or race cars, others in elegant classics.

Moreover, the premium charged for a car that is on display is a fraction of what it is for a car that’s on the road, Heacock said. Heacock figures that a collectible car can typically be insured for a premium amounting to 1 percent of its value.

If you’re in a car club, ask your fellow Duesenberg or Corvair enthusiasts where they bought their insurance, she said.

Friday, August 28, 2009

California insurance commissioner to fight sale of part of workers' comp fund

Excerpts from an August 28, 2009 Los Angeles Times article
By Marc Lifsher

California's regulator is expected today to file a lawsuit to try to stop the governor from selling $1 billion worth of business at state-run workers' compensation insurance company.

Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature approved the proposed sale to raise money to partially plug a $24-billion hole in the state budget.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner vowed to fight it. "This is bad politics; it's illegal, and I'm going to stop it," he said. And he warned that a sale could increase the price of workers' comp insurance for millions of workers.

Poizner said he would ask a Sacramento County Superior Court judge for an injunction preventing any sale of policies at the $21-billion company known as State Fund.

To net $1 billion, the state would have to sell a significant portion of State Fund's best, least risky business, officials estimate. But doing that, Poizner warned, could drive up rates for policyholders at both State Fund and private companies.

"They may have to raise rates by thousands of dollars a year per policy to make up for this $1 billion," he said. "It could ripple through the entire workers' compensation system."

Selling assets "can be accomplished in a manner that is legal and that maintains the integrity of the fund," said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger's finance department.

But selling a big chunk of State Fund would violate a provision of the state Constitution approved by voters in 1918, Poizner said. That statewide vote set up a legal system for providing medical care and compensation to injured workers. State Fund's board of directors, nine of 11 of whom are appointed by the governor, has also gone on record opposing the proposed sale.

Money collected by selling State Fund assets legally belongs to policyholders, not California taxpayers, said Nicholas Roxborough, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in employers' rights in workers' compensation disputes.

Trying to balance the budget by selling State Fund business is "pie in the sky, Fantasyland stuff," he said. "For the governor to propose this means he either truly does not understand what is State Fund or this is nothing more than a ruse."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What about a Voucher System for Health Care?

August 25, 2009, 10:00 pm

A Reading List on Insurance Choice

InIn my ColumnI talk about an idea that’s missing from the current versions of health reform: allowing people to choose an insurance plan other than the ones offered by their employer.

Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist now working in the Obama budget office, and Victor Fuchs, a Stanford economist, lay out their version of a plan here.

Comment by Phil

Get ready to suspend disbelief and spend some time reading a serious proposal that has real merit. Jump to page 10 of the adobe pdf file for a brief summary of the plan. It will be worth your time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Independant Study Group's conclusions

Mon Aug 24 08:07:40 2009 Pacific Time

RAND Analysis Finds Certain Health Reform Policy Options Would Significantly Reduce Number of Uninsured Americans

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Aug. 24 (AScribe Newswire) -- New analysis from the RAND Corporation shows that a mandate requiring individuals to obtain health insurance -- an option in various current legislative proposals -- would increase the number of Americans with coverage by 9 million to 34 million, while a mandate requiring employers to offer insurance would boost the figure by 1.8 million to 3.4 million.

The findings are from a micro-simulation model created as a part of RAND COMPARE, an ongoing, independent effort to provide objective information about health care reform. The latest analysis, released today at, examines policy options designed to expand coverage to the uninsured.

In addition to individual policy options, the analysis examined a plan proposed in the lead-up to the current health care debate by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Researchers evaluated the likely effect of the proposal on coverage, spending, consumer financial risk and health. RAND's analysis of that plan, outlined in a white paper in November, concludes it would reduce the number of people without insurance by an estimated 60 percent to 85 percent, depending on specific design choices.

That proposal relates to draft legislation that is still being negotiated by the Senate Finance Committee, of which Sen. Baucus (D-Montana) is chairman. Not all of the elements examined by RAND will necessarily be part of the legislation that ultimately emerges from that committee, but many of the features are similar to those found in the House Tri-Committee bill and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee bill.

Researchers from RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, found that under different design choices the Baucus proposal could significantly cut the number of uninsured Americans with almost no increase in overall spending on health care, although government costs would increase by an estimated 5 percent to 7 percent.

"What is clear is that the extent of subsidies to help people purchase insurance, as well as the size of the penalty for an individual who fails to purchase insurance or an employer who fails to offer it, can make a substantial difference," said Elizabeth McGlynn, co-director of COMPARE and associate director of RAND Health. "These are some of the key decisions that face Congress when it returns after the recess."

The plan as outlined in the white paper would be implemented over time and would include: a requirement that all employers above a certain size offer health insurance to their employees, an expansion in the eligibility for Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program and a requirement that all individuals have health insurance coverage.

The white paper did not specify which employers would be required to offer insurance or what the penalty would be for those who choose not to offer it. Researchers examined the effect of excluding companies with fewer than 5, 10 or 25 employees from the mandate, as well as the effect of penalties set at 5 percent, 10 percent and 20 percent of total payroll.

RAND estimates that before implementation of the individual mandate, the number of people who would become newly insured through employer-sponsored coverage could range from 2 million to 7.2 million, depending on assumptions.

Before the individual mandate is implemented, expanding eligibility for Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program results in about 5 million more people obtaining health insurance coverage than under the employer mandate alone.

All of the health reform bills introduced by chairs of committees with jurisdiction thus far include some type of new national health insurance exchange that would allow individuals to purchase health insurance in a national market, rather than only among those plans offered in the state where they live. Once this exchange is operational, the plan RAND analyzed would require everyone to have insurance through either a public program (Medicaid, State Children's Health Insurance Program, TRICARE) or through private sources (employer, individual policies, exchange).

"We found that the individual mandate has the largest effect on reducing the number of people without health insurance," said Christine Eibner, lead researcher on the analysis of the white paper and an economist at RAND. She noted that the Baucus proposal specifies that subsidies to help purchase insurance would be offered to people with incomes of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

She said the individual mandate is the one policy option that addresses the different characteristics of the uninsured. It will affect both the 44 percent of people who already have an offer of health insurance through their employer or Medicaid, but have not taken it, as well as the remaining group that would have to seek out insurance.

The white paper did not specify the size of penalty that would be imposed on people who do not comply with the mandate to purchase insurance. Researchers examined the effect of penalties set at 25 percent, 50 percent and 75 percent of the premium an individual would have to pay for a policy from an insurance exchange. Assuming a moderate employer mandate, increasing the penalty from 25 percent to 75 percent of the premium an individual would pay on the national insurance exchange would reduce the number of uninsured by 32.5 million -- a 71 percent reduction. By contrast, a penalty of 25 percent would reduce the number of uninsured by 20.8 million, a 46 percent reduction.

Most of the major proposals in Congress include some new health insurance marketplace (such as the "exchange" in the white paper and the House Tri-Committee bill, and "gateways" in the HELP Committee bill). Subsidies to offset the costs of purchasing health insurance are generally only available to people who purchase via the exchange; and access to the exchange in many bills is limited to those who do not have any other source of coverage. The RAND team estimated that if this restriction were relaxed, 38.3 million people would be newly insured -- an 85 percent reduction in the rate of uninsurance.

RAND researchers also estimated the increase in national spending on health care, the increase in government spending, the effect for consumers in different types of households, and the change in the health of the population that might be caused by adopting provisions in the white paper.

Under all of the policy options, the increase in national spending on health care was negligible, meaning that increasing the number of people with insurance would not likely change the rate of growth in health spending. Government spending would increase by 5 percent to 7 percent under the most likely scenarios; however, if the insurance exchange were open to a much wider group of people, government spending could increase by as much as 9 percent, according to the RAND analysis.

Consumers who are currently uninsured would likely spend more on health care if the proposals in the white paper were implemented than they do today. RAND researchers estimate that people without insurance currently spend about 2 percent of their income on health care on average, compared with 6 percent among those with insurance. The analysis suggests the plan would prompt those who become newly insured to increase their spending on health care to about 5 percent, on average.

Researchers also evaluated whether any change would occur in the proportion of population likely to experience very high rates of spending on health care. They found that about one-quarter of the nation's population would spend more than 10 percent of their income on health care after the policy change, the same proportion that faces high levels of spending today.

A unique feature of the RAND analysis is the ability to estimate the impact of these policy changes on the health of the nation. Researchers estimate that under full implementation, the white paper's proposal would add 9.3 million life years to the U.S. population.

RAND developed COMPARE to provide objective facts and analysis to inform the dialogue about health policy options. Individuals, corporations, corporate foundations, philanthropic foundations, and health system stakeholders have funded COMPARE. The new analysis is presented on the Web site's "dashboard" (see, which allows users to compare different policy options across a broad set of criteria.

RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation, is the nation's largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on quality, costs and health services delivery, among other topics. RAND Health is the developer of COMPARE (Comprehensive Assessment of Reform Efforts), a one-of-a-kind online resource that provides objective analysis about national health care reform proposals.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world. To sign up for RAND e-mail alerts: .

A Public Option that Works

Published: August 21, 2009

TWO burning questions are at the center of America’s health care debate. First, should employers be required to pay for their employees’ health insurance? And second, should there be a “public option” that competes with private insurance?

Answers might be found in San Francisco, where ambitious health care legislation went into effect early last year. San Francisco and Massachusetts now offer the only near-universal health care programs in the United States.

The early results are in. Today, almost all residents in the city have affordable access to a comprehensive health care delivery system through the Healthy San Francisco program. Covered services include the use of a so-called “medical home” that coordinates care at approved clinics and hospitals within San Francisco, with both public and private facilities. Although not formally insurance, the program is tantamount to a public option of comprehensive health insurance, with the caveat that services are covered only in the city of San Francisco. Enrollees with incomes under 300 percent of the federal poverty level have heavily subsidized access, and those with higher incomes may buy into the public program at rates substantially lower than what they would pay for an individual policy in the private-insurance market.

To pay for this, San Francisco put into effect an employer-health-spending requirement, akin to the “pay or play” employer insurance mandates being considered in Congress. Businesses with 100 or more employees must spend $1.85 an hour toward health care for each employee. Businesses with 20 to 99 employees pay $1.23 an hour, and businesses with 19 or fewer employees are exempt. These are much higher spending levels than mandated in Massachusetts, and more stringent than any of the plans currently under consideration in Congress. Businesses can meet the requirement by paying for private insurance, by paying into medical-reimbursement accounts or by paying into the city’s Healthy San Francisco public option.

There has been great demand for this plan. Thus far, around 45,000 adults have enrolled, compared to an estimated 60,000 who were previously uninsured. Among covered businesses, roughly 20 percent have chosen to use the city’s public option for at least some of their employees. But interestingly, in a recent survey of the city’s businesses, very few (less than 5 percent) of the employers who chose the public option are thinking about dropping existing (private market) insurance coverage. The public option has been used largely to cover previously uninsured workers and to supplement private-coverage options.

Through our experience working on health-care-reform efforts in California and Washington (one of us worked for President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers), we have seen how concern over employer costs can be a sticking point in the health care debate, even in the absence of persuasive evidence that increased costs would seriously harm businesses. San Francisco’s example should put some of those fears to rest. Many businesses there had to raise their health spending substantially to meet the new requirements, but so far the plan has not hurt jobs.

As of December 2008, there was no indication that San Francisco’s employment grew more slowly after the enactment of the employer-spending requirement than did employment in surrounding areas in San Mateo and Alameda counties. If anything, employment trends were slightly better in San Francisco. This is true whether you consider overall employment or employment in sectors most affected by the employer mandate, like retail businesses and restaurants.

So how have employers adjusted to the higher costs, if not by cutting jobs? More than 25 percent of restaurants, for example, have instituted a “surcharge” — about 4 percent of the bill for most establishments — to pay for the additional costs. Local service businesses can add this surcharge (or raise prices) without risking their competitive position, since their competitors will be required to take similar measures. Furthermore, some of the costs may be passed on to employees in the form of smaller pay raises, which could help ward off the possibility of job losses. Over the longer term, if more widespread coverage allows people to choose jobs based on their skills and not out of fear of losing health insurance from one specific employer, increased productivity will help pay for some of the costs of the mandate.

The San Francisco experiment has demonstrated that requiring a shared-responsibility model — in which employers pay to help achieve universal coverage — has not led to the kind of job losses many fear. The public option has also passed the market test, while not crowding out private options. The positive changes in San Francisco provide a glimpse of what the future might look like if Washington passes substantial health reform this year.

William H. Dow, who was a senior economist for President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, is a professor of health economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where Arindrajit Dube is an economist at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and Carrie Hoverman Colla is a doctoral student in health economics.

A thoughtful insight

Excerpt from a middle America Professional news editor

August 24,2009

As you read this, unemployed people are wondering if the cancer treatments they endured five years ago will prevent them from getting an insurance policy.

Hardworking families are filing bankruptcy papers because of medical bills they can’t begin to pay.

The 24-hour news cycle spins and spins, the pundits talk and talk, and the Internet rumors fly. It’s all a great, captivating show but it is surreal. Reality is the stories playing out in our communities, and I fear we’re losing sight of them.

Editorial board member Barbara Shelly can be reached at or 816-234-4594. She blogs at

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The crux of the problem

Submitted by todaydata on August 22, 2009 - 11:05am.

It is not just Medicare not paying the full price. Those of us who buy private plans pay ridiculously high prices for poor coverage because the big employer based plans negotiate big discounts and the insurance companies shift the costs to those of us with no buying clout.

And people who pay out of pocket pay two or three times what big insurance companies pay for the same service.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two Very Different Views of Health Care Reform

It's difficult to sort out fact from emotion driven view point. Here are two views posted today August 22,2009

The Real Death Panels
Rep Tom Price on Patient Centered Care

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CBS news asks Will Insurance Alone Cure What Ails Us?

Insuring All Americans Won't Help if There Is a Shortage of Primary Care Doctors

By Sanjay Gupta

President Obama says everyone should be required to have health insurance, much like car insurance. Is Massachusetts' mandatory health insurance laws on the right track?

(CBS) Baystate Medical Center is the second busiest emergency room in Massachusetts. They treat over 100,000 patients a year, but here's the thing: according to Dr. Niels Rathlev, who runs the ER, a quarter of them don't need his services.

"Well I think the way I would phrase it is to say I think that there are alternate sites of care that would be more appropriate," Rathlev said.

He means a doctor's office - a primary care doctor's office, reports CBS News contributing medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

"The majority of patients who are frequent utilizers of the emergency department actually have insurance," Rathlev said. "They have a primary care physician, but they choose to come to the ER because they don't have access."

Like Kenneth Mills, who is in pain from a bowling injury.
"I went and called my doctor this morning," Mills said. "But I wouldn't be able to get in to see him."

Mills is bruised, not broken, and could have easily been treated outside the ER.
Well, I wish I had a primary I could just call and come in and I wouldn't have to wait as long," Mills said.

That's the issue: There aren't enough doctors.
the Department of Health and Human Services, we're more than 16,000 primary care doctors short in The United States.

I've been in practice for 10 years and I still owe $60,000 in student loans," said Dr. Kate Atkinson from Amherst, Mass.

The reality here is that Atkinson and her nurse practitioner treat 3,000 patients, but filling out hundreds of different forms takes a staff of 11- so she simply can't make ends meet.

Gupta thinks money plays a role. There has also been discussions of medical school loan forgiveness programs, which might help. But it's also the paperwork - it makes it hard for primary care physicians to get work done.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Historical bacground of a working Not-For-Profit Health Care Group

Medicacare Advantage plans (private ins wrapped around personal medicare ) works and provides smaller premiums because the govt funds at 14% higher to private insurance .

Enter Kaiser Permanente
(a model for Not for Profit Co-Op Insurance groups)

Excerpts from "About" Kaiser Permanente website

Kaiser Permanente evolved from industrial health care programs for construction, shipyard, and steel mill workers for the Kaiser industrial companies during the late 1930s and 1940s. It was opened to public enrollment in October 1945.

The organization that is now Kaiser Permanente began at the height of the Great Depression with a single inventive young surgeon in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Sidney Garfield, MD, looked at the thousands of men involved in building the Los Angeles Aqueduct, . He borrowed money to build Contractors General Hospital; six miles from a tiny town called Desert Center, and began treating sick and injured workers. Dr. Garfield was having trouble getting the insurance companies to pay his bills in a timely fashion. To compound matters, not all of the men had insurance, so he often was left with no payment at all for his services. Soon, the hospital’s expenses were far exceeding its income.

Prepayment System is Born

Harold Hatch, an engineer-turned-insurance agent suggested that the insurance companies pay Dr. Garfield a fixed amount per day, per covered worker, up front. This would enable Dr. Garfield to emphasize maintaining health and safety rather than merely treating illness and injury. Thus, “prepayment” was born. Thousands of workers enrolled, and Dr. Garfield’s hospital became a financial success.

As the aqueduct project wound down, Dr. Garfield prepared to leave his desert hospital and start a solo practice in Los Angeles. But he got a call from another industrialist. This time, the problem was providing health care to 6,500 workers and their families at the largest construction site in history—the Grand Coulee Dam.

He recruited a team of doctors to work in a “prepaid group practice.” The method again was a smashing success and a big hit with the workers and their families. But as the dam neared completion in 1941, it seemed once again that the grand experiment was reaching an end.

America’s entry into World War II brought tens of thousands of workers—many of who were inexperienced and in poor health already—pouring into the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, Calif. Now, Henry J. Kaiser had the problem: How to provide health care for this teeming mass of 30,000? Kaiser convinced Dr. Garfield he could solve the problem, but it took some special wrangling—the surgeon was already scheduled to enter active duty with his U.S. Army Reserve unit .

At Kaiser’s request, President Franklin D. Roosevelt released Dr. Garfield from his military obligation so he could organize and run a prepaid group practice for the workers at the Richmond shipyards.
So, Dr. Garfield and his health care delivery system came to the San Francisco Bay Area, and formed the association with Kaiser that would imbed itself in the organization and continue until the present day.

Thus, the organization known in modern times as Kaiser Permanente was born. We are still a working partnership of two organizations: the not-for-profit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, and the Permanente Medical Groups.
© 2009 Kaiser Permanente

Friday, August 14, 2009

A thoughtful alternative

Excerpts from a Wall Street Journal article (August 13,2009)

Mr. Cochrane is professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and author of "Health Status Insurance" (Cato, 2009)

Even if you don't like the massive health-care package being considered in Congress, you have to admit that health insurance and health care in this country are not working well. There are two basic problems:

First, if you get sick and then lose your job or get divorced, you lose your health insurance. With a pre-existing condition, new insurance will be ruinously expensive, if you can get it at all. This, the central defect of American health insurance, explains why most Americans are happy with their current coverage yet also support reform.

Second, health care costs too much. Yes, we get better treatment, but the cost-cutting revolution has not touched health care.

The problems are real, but the remedy— more government intervention—is counterproductive. A market-based, reform is possible, and it will work.

Health care and insurance are service-oriented, retail businesses. The only way to reduce costs in such a business is intense competition for every customer. The idea that the federal government can reduce costs is a triumph of hope over centuries of experience.

The cost-cutting revolutions didn't settle questions like these with acts of Congress, That approach has never spurred efficiency, and for good reasons. Cost-cutting is painful. Patients might have to get tests at inconvenient times and locations. They will do this when their money is at stake—what people will put up with from airlines for a few dollars is truly amazing—but they will never accept it from the government.

But what about pre-existing conditions?

A truly effective insurance policy would combine coverage for this year's expenses with the right to buy insurance in the future at a set price. UnitedHealth now lets you buy the right to future insurance—insurance against developing a pre-existing condition.

These market solutions can be refined. Insurance policies could separate current insurance and the right to buy future insurance. Then, if you are temporarily covered by an employer, you could keep the pre-existing-condition protection.

Some insurers avoid their guaranteed-renewable obligations by assigning people to pools and raising rates as healthy people leave the pools. Health insurers, like life insurers, could write contracts that treat all of their customers equally.

The right to future insurance could be transferrable to another company, for example, if you move. You could have the right that your company will pay a lump sum, so that a new insurer will take you, with no change in your premiums. Better, this sum could be occasionally placed in a custodial account. If you got sick but had something like a health-savings account to pay high premiums, you could always get new insurance. Insurers would then compete for sick people too.

Innovations like these would catch on quickly in a vibrant, deregulated individual insurance market.

How do we know insurers will honor such contracts? A car insurer that doesn't pay claims quickly loses customers and goes out of business. And courts do still enforce contracts.

More importantly, health care and insurance are overly protected and regulated businesses. We need to remove regulations such as the ban on cross-state insurance. Think about it. What else aren't we allowed to purchase in another state?

Private, competitive insurance markets are a superior way to solve the pre-existing-conditions problem, and the only hope to lower costs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What about immigration?

Hispanics watching health care debate closely
Excerpts from article
By JULIANA BARBASSA (AP) – 1 day ago (Aug 11,2009)

OAKLAND, Calif. — Perched at the edge of an exam table, Delmira
Maravilla is anxious for a check-up — and for a timeline on the
president's promise of health care for all Americans. (mother of 9
without health insurance)

Without immigration reform and a path to citizenship, millions could be
left out of the system. About 59 percent of the 11.9 million
undocumented immigrants living in the United States have no health
insurance, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

".. we're so close to having health care reform. We'd be working
against ourselves to let immigration issues stall the process."

Jennifer Ng'andu, deputy director of the National Council of La Raza's
Health Policy Project, believes that any plan which doesn't include
undocumented immigrants won't last. They make up about 15 percent
of the nation's approximately 47 million uninsured.

"If we don't talk about integrating communities that have been
traditionally shut out, we're going to be talking about health care
reform again in 15 years," said Ng'andu, who has been talking to
legislators and to health care advocates on their behalf.

On the other hand...

To proponents of greater immigration controls, allowing illegal
immigrants to benefit from federally subsidized health care and
insurance would go against enforcement goals by legitimizing their

"They would have no incentives to leave," said Mark Krikorian, of the
Center for Immigration Studies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama launches Website to offer Truth-in-HealthCare

By MIKE ALLEN | 8/10/09 7:20 AM EDT

Facing an onslaught of opposition to health reform, the White House on Monday opened a “Reality Check” website
with a viral tool aimed at online combat on everything from “rationing” to euthanasia.

Click here for Euthanasia Myth video

Monday, August 10, 2009

Personal observation

Auto insurance addresses repair of damage not regular maintenance. Perhaps we should consider that same approach to health care

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Health Insurance companies View of Health Care Reform

New York Times
Excerpts from
Published: August 4, 2009

A major shift in Insurance companies approach to Health Care Reform

There has been a striking change for the insurance industry, long an opponent of health care reform. Insurers have agreed to abandon some of their most controversial practices, like denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing medical conditions.

Karen M. Ignagni, the industry’s chief lobbyist, personally pledged to President Obama that insurers would not stand in the way of a sweeping overhaul this time.

For a while, it seemed to be working — then the insurance industry re-emerged as Washington’s favorite target. “Villains,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, called them. And Mr. Obama derided the industry for pocketing “windfall profits.”

As the debate heats up, Ms. Ignagni is facing her toughest test. After winning concessions, and consensus, from many insurance companies with competing interests, she now has to keep them together as the assault on the industry picks up. Her strategy has been to push for changes her members can live with.

Despite her efforts to ally the industry with Washington, however, it risks being thrust in the same role it played 15 years ago when it helped derail reform.

When the president called on Ms. Ignagni at a White House meeting in March, she was quick to reassure him, “You have our commitment to pass health reform this year.”

But the talk has become increasingly unfriendly of late, as the president and Congress have latched onto the insurance industry’s failings.

Even as she fends off industry criticism, Ms. Ignagni must try to preserve the current consensus over what changes insurers are willing to make.

Ronald A. Williams, Aetna’s chief executive said that they came to their current position after significant discussion, in contrast to the early 1990s, and that despite the current tenor of the debate, they “intend to remain at the table,” .

Friday, August 7, 2009

Insurance Industry fighting hard to stop govt plan

Associated Press Aug 7,2009

The AP reports the insurance industry "still has a fighting chance to fend off the part of health care overhaul it most despises - creation of a government-run plan to compete with private insurers. Industry lobbyists are using influential allies, a thick wallet and a strategy of avoiding blatant confrontation to block or weaken the proposal." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter said on MSNBC's Countdown that Democrats "can argue about the detail, but the idea of sustaining status quo is unacceptable, and Democrats all over the country have to just come out and say, we need a bill."

The Hill August 7,2009

Axelrod Gives Senate Democrats Recess Talking Points On Healthcare

(By Alexander Bolton and Jeffrey Young Posted: 08/06/09 05:52 PM [ET] )
The Hill reports Senate Democrats have been "armed with a new set of talking points from David Axelrod, the president's chief political strategist."He"told lawmakers to focus on reform of the health insurance industry when talking to constituents said Democrats who attended the meeting. Axelrod also instructed them to talk about Democratic healthcare reform plans compared to the status quo."

House HealthCare to be signed into law

Martinez News-Gazette reports
August 4, 2009

Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), one of the three principal authors of the health insurance reform bill in the House of Representatives, said today that significant progress is being made in Congress on the issue and that he expects a strong reform bill to be signed into law later this year.

Miller said the alternative to passing health insurance reform is “unacceptable, unaffordable, and unfair.” People with insurance will see their costs rise by an average of $1,800 per year, every year, without reform, Miller said. In addition, people are at risk every day of losing their insurance or having their claims denied because of a pre-existing condition.

In July, three committees in the House – the Education and Labor Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and the Energy and Commerce Committee – each passed a version of the bill, and those three versions will be put together in one bill that the House will consider later this year. As one of the three committee chairs, Miller will be at the center of those discussions

“Our bill offers stability, security and quality,” Miller said, “and it will not increase the federal budget deficit.”