KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Single-payer Advocates Challenge Democrats While Private Insurers Get Nervous

Democrats working feverishly on health care reform "face increasingly noisy protests from those on the left who complain that a national program like those in Europe has been excluded from the debate," The Washington Post reports.

Leaders have made it clear, however, that single-payer with its proposal of making the federal government responsible for paying for all health care, is too "politically and practically impossible."

"That has not dissuaded single-payer activists, who have spent months hounding Democratic lawmakers and organizing demonstrations, including one that resulted in 13 arrests at a Senate hearing last month." Meanwhile, "Many Republicans see the movement as evidence that Democrats are setting the country on the path to 'government-run health care,' as they describe it. Conservatives for Patients' Rights, an advocacy group bankrolled by ousted Columbia/HCA chief Rick Scott, unveiled a $1.2 million ad campaign Thursday that portrays Democratic plans as a 'bulldozer' aimed at eliminating private insurance companies" (Eggen, 6/6).

The New York Times reports President Obama is also trying to soothe the fears of Republicans and insurance companies, largely that a public plan similar to state employee plans would be the first step to a single-payer system, and that because of that, insurers "would not be able to compete with a Medicare-like option and might gradually be priced out of existence."

"The administration's leading voices on health policy say the coexistence of public and private options within state employee benefit programs demonstrates that it can be done. … In most cases, the state's self-insured, or public, option is a preferred provider organization that competes against private health maintenance organizations. A 2008 survey by Mercer, the health benefits consulting firm, found that 61 percent of the members of state employee health plans were enrolled in P.P.O.'s, but that private H.M.O.'s managed to maintain a third of the market. A notable exception is the largest state plan, the California Public Employees Retirement System, where more than two-thirds of members choose a private insurance option. 'It has not destroyed the market,' Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said at her Senate confirmation hearing in April. 'It has not tilted the playing field. But that's all about the way the rules are set'" (Sack, 6/6).

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