President Richard Nixon’s Special Message to the Congress Proposing a Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan
February 6, 1974
From The American Presidency Project, University of California at Santa Barbara
To the Congress of the United States:
One of the most cherished goals of our democracy is to assure every American an equal opportunity to lead a full and productive life.
In the last quarter century, we have made remarkable progress toward that goal, opening the doors to millions of our fellow countrymen who were seeking equal opportunities in education, jobs and voting.
Now it is time that we move forward again in still another critical area: health care.
Without adequate health care, no one can make full use of his or her talents and opportunities. It is thus just as important that economic, racial and social barriers not stand in the way of good health care as it is to eliminate those barriers to a good education and a good job.
Three years ago, I proposed a major health insurance program to the Congress, seeking to guarantee adequate financing of health care on a nationwide basis. That proposal generated widespread discussion and useful debate. But no legislation reached my desk.
Today the need is even more pressing because of the higher costs of medical care. Efforts to control medical costs under the New Economic Policy have been Inept with encouraging success, sharply reducing the rate of inflation for health care. Nevertheless, the overall cost of health care has still risen by more than 20 percent in the last two and one-half years, so that more and more Americans face staggering bills when they receive medical help today:
–Across the Nation, the average cost of a day of hospital care now exceeds $110.
–The average cost of delivering a baby and providing postnatal care approaches $1,000.
–The average cost of health care for terminal cancer now exceeds $20,000.
For the average family, it is clear that without adequate insurance, even normal care can ‘be a financial burden while a catastrophic illness can mean catastrophic debt.
Beyond the question of the prices of health care, our present system of health care insurance suffers from two major flaws :
First, even though more Americans carry health insurance than ever before, the 25 million Americans who remain uninsured often need it the most and are most unlikely to obtain it. They include many who work in seasonal or transient occupations, high-risk cases, and those who are ineligible for Medicaid despite low incomes.
Second, those Americans who do carry health insurance often lack coverage which is balanced, comprehensive and fully protective:
–Forty percent of those who are insured are not covered for visits to physicians on an out-patient basis, a gap that creates powerful incentives toward high cost care in hospitals;
–Few people have the option of selecting care through prepaid arrangements offered by Health Maintenance Organizations so the system at large does not benefit from the free choice and creative competition this would offer;
–Very few private policies cover preventive services;
–Most health plans do not contain built-in incentives to reduce waste and inefficiency. The extra costs of wasteful practices are passed on, of course, to consumers; and
–Fewer than half of our citizens under 65–and almost none over 65–have major medical coverage which pays for the cost of catastrophic illness.
These gaps in health protection can have tragic consequences. They can cause people to delay seeking medical attention until it is too late. Then a medical crisis ensues, followed by huge medical bills–or worse. Delays in treatment can end in death or lifelong disability.
COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN (CHIP)
Early last year, I directed the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to prepare a new and improved plan for comprehensive health insurance. That plan, as I indicated in my State of the Union message, has been developed and I am presenting it to the Congress today. I urge its enactment as soon as possible.
The plan is organized around seven principles:
First, it offers every American an opportunity to obtain a balanced, comprehensive range of health insurance benefits;
Second, it will cost no American more than he can afford to pay;
Third, it builds on the strength and diversity of our existing public and private systems of health financing and harmonizes them into an overall system;
Fourth, it uses public funds only where needed and requires no new Federal taxes;
Fifth, it would maintain freedom of choice by patients and ensure that doctors work for their patient, not for the Federal Government.
Sixth, it encourages more effective use of our health care resources;
And finally, it is organized so that all parties would have a direct stake in making the system work–consumer, provider, insurer, State governments and the Federal Government.
BROAD AND BALANCED PROTECTION FOR ALL AMERICANS
Upon adoption of appropriate Federal and State legislation, the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan would offer to every American the same broad and balanced health protection through one of three major programs:
–Employee Health Insurance, covering most Americans and offered at their place of employment, with the cost to be shared by the employer and employee on a basis which would prevent excessive burdens on either;
–Assisted Health Insurance, covering low-income persons, and persons who would be ineligible for the other two programs, with Federal and State government paying those costs beyond the means of the individual who is insured; and,
–An improved Medicare Plan, covering those 65 and over and offered through a Medicare system that is modified to include additional, needed benefits.
One of these three plans would be available to every American, but for everyone, participation in the program would be voluntary.
The benefits offered by the three plans would be identical for all Americans, regardless of age or income. Benefits would be provided for:
–physicians’ care in and out of the hospital;
–prescription and life-saving drugs;
–laboratory tests and X-rays;
–ambulance services; and,
–other ancillary health care.
There would be no exclusions of coverage based on the nature of the illness. For example, a person with heart disease would qualify for benefits as would a person with kidney disease.
In addition, CHIP would cover treatment for mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, whether that treatment were provided in hospitals and physicians’ offices or in community based settings.
Certain nursing home services and other convalescent services would also be covered. For example, home health services would be covered so that long and costly stays in nursing homes could be averted where possible.
The health needs of children would come in for special attention, since many conditions, if detected in childhood, can be prevented from causing lifelong disability and learning handicaps. Included in these services for children would be:
–preventive care up to age six;
–hearing examinations; and,
–regular dental care up to age 13.
Under the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan, a doctor’s decisions could be based on the health care needs of his patients, not on health insurance coverage. This difference is essential for quality care.
Every American participating in the program would be insured for catastrophic illnesses that can eat away savings and plunge individuals and families into hopeless debt for years. No family would ever have annual out-of-pocket expenses for covered health services in excess of $1,500, and low-income families would face substantially smaller expenses.
As part of this program, every American who participates in the program would receive a Health-card when the plan goes into effect in his State. This card, similar to a credit card, would be honored by hospitals, nursing homes, emergency rooms, doctors, and clinics across the country. This card could also be used to identify information on blood type and .sensitivity to particular drugs-information which might be important in an emergency.
Bills for the services paid for with the Health-card would be sent to the insurance carrier who would reimburse the provider of the care for covered services, then bill the patient for his share, if any.
The entire program would become effective in 1976, assuming that the plan is promptly enacted by the Congress.
HOW EMPLOYEE HEALTH INSURANCE WOULD WORK
Every employer would be required to offer all full-time employees the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan. Additional benefits could then be added by mutual agreement. The insurance plan would be jointly financed, with employers paying 65 percent of the premium for the first three years of the plan, and 75 percent thereafter. Employees would pay the balance of the premiums. Temporary Federal subsidies would be used to ease the initial burden on employers who face significant cost increases.
Individuals covered by the plan would pay the first $150 in annual medical expenses. A separate $50 deductible provision would apply for out-patient drugs. There would be a maximum of three medical deductibles per family.
After satisfying this deductible limit, an enrollee would then pay for 25 percent of additional bills. However, $1,500 per year would be the absolute dollar limit on any family’s medical expenses for covered services in any one year.
As an interim measure, the Medicaid program would be continued to meet certain needs, primarily long-term institutional care. I do not consider our current approach to long-term care desirable because it can lead to overemphasis on institutional as opposed to home care. The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare has undertaken a thorough study of the appropriate institutional services which should be included in health insurance and other programs and will report his findings to me.
The Medicare program now provides medical protection for over 23 million older Americans. Medicare, however, does not cover outpatient drugs, nor does it limit total out-of-pocket costs. It is still possible for an elderly person to be financially devastated by a lengthy illness even with Medicare coverage.
I therefore propose that Medicare’s benefits be improved so that Medicare would provide the same benefits offered to other Americans under Employee Health Insurance and Assisted Health Insurance.
Any person 65 or over, eligible to receive Medicare payments, would ordinarily, under my modified Medicare plan, pay the first $100 for care received during a year, and the first $50 toward outpatient drugs. He or she would also pay 20 percent of any bills above the deductible limit. But in no case would any Medicare beneficiary have to pay more than $750 in out-of-pocket costs. The premiums and cost sharing for those with low incomes would be reduced, with public funds making up the difference.
The current program of Medicare for the disabled would be replaced. Those now in the Medicare for the disabled plan would be eligible for Assisted Health Insurance, which would provide better coverage for those with high medical costs and low incomes.
Premiums for most people under the new Medicare program would be roughly equal to that which is now payable under Part B of Medicare–the Supplementary Medical Insurance program.
HOW ASSISTED HEALTH INSURANCE WOULD WORK
The program of Assisted Health Insurance is designed to cover everyone not offered coverage under Employee Health Insurance or Medicare, including the unemployed, the disabled, the self-employed, and those with low incomes. In addition, persons with higher incomes could also obtain Assisted Health Insurance if they cannot otherwise get coverage at reasonable rates. Included in this latter group might be persons whose health status or type of work puts them in high-risk insurance categories.
Assisted Health Insurance would thus fill many of the gaps in our present health insurance system and would ensure that for the first time in our Nation’s history, all Americans would have financial access to health protection regardless of income or circumstances.
A principal feature of Assisted Health Insurance is that it relates premiums and out-of-pocket expenses to the income of the person or family enrolled. Working families with incomes of up to $5,000, for instance, would pay no premiums at all. Deductibles, co-insurance, and maximum liability would all be pegged to income levels.
Assisted Health Insurance would replace State-run Medicaid for most services. Unlike Medicaid, where benefits vary in each State, this plan would establish uniform benefit and eligibility standards for all low-income persons. It would also eliminate artificial barriers to enrollment or access to health care.
COSTS OF COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH INSURANCE
When fully effective, the total new costs of CHIP to the Federal and State governments would be about $6.9 billion with an additional small amount for transitional assistance for small and low wage employers:
–The Federal Government would add about $5.9 billion over the cost of continuing existing programs to finance health care for low-income or high risk persons.
–State governments would add about $1.0 billion over existing Medicaid spending for the same purpose, though these added costs would be largely, if not wholly offset by reduced State and local budgets for direct provision of services.
–The Federal Government would provide assistance to small and low wage employers which would initially cost about $450 million but be phased out over five years.
For the average American family, what all of these figures reduce to is simply this:
–The national average family cost for health insurance premiums each year under Employee Health Insurance would be about $150; the employer would pay approximately $450 for each employee who participates in the plan.
–Additional family costs for medical care would vary according to need and use, but in no case would a family have to pay more than $1,500 in any one year for covered services.
–No additional taxes would be needed to pay for the cost of CHIP. The Federal funds needed to pay for this plan could all be drawn from revenues that would be generated by the present tax structure. I am opposed to any comprehensive health plan which requires new taxes.
MAKING THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM WORK BETTER
Any program to finance health care for the Nation must take close account of two critical and related problems–cost and quality.
When Medicare and Medicaid went into effect, medical prices jumped almost twice as fast as living costs in general in the next five years. These programs increased demand without increasing supply proportionately and higher costs resulted.
This escalation of medical prices must not recur when the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan goes into effect. One way to prevent an escalation is to increase the supply of physicians, which is now taking place at a rapid rate. Since 1965, the number of first-year enrollments in medical schools has increased 55 percent. By 1980, the Nation should have over 440,000 physicians, or roughly one-third more than today. We are also taking steps to train persons in allied health occupations, who can extend the services of the physician.
With these and other efforts already underway, the Nation’s health manpower supply will be able to meet the additional demands that will be placed on it.
Other measures have also been taken to contain medical prices. Under the New Economic Policy, hospital cost increases have been cut almost in half from their post-Medicare highs, and the rate of increase in physician fees has slowed substantially. It is extremely important that these successes be continued as we move toward our goal of comprehensive health insurance protection for all Americans. I will, therefore, recommend to the Congress that the Cost of Living Council’s authority to control medical care costs be extended.
To contain medical costs effectively over the long-haul, however, basic reforms in the financing and delivery of care are also needed. We need a system with built-in incentives that operates more efficiently and reduces the losses from waste and duplication of effort. Everyone pays for this inefficiency through their health premiums and medical bills.
The measure I am recommending today therefore contains a number of proposals designed to contain costs, improve the efficiency of the system and assure quality health care. These proposals include:
1. HEALTH MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATIONS (HMO’S)
On December 29, 1973, I signed into law legislation designed to stimulate, through Federal aid, the establishment of prepaid comprehensive care organizations. HMO’s have proved an effective means for delivering health care and the CHIP plan requires that they be offered as an option for the individual and the family as soon as they become available. This would encourage more freedom of choice for both patients and providers, while fostering diversity in our medical care delivery system.
2. PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS REVIEW ORGANIZATIONS (PSRO’S)
I also contemplate in my proposal a provision that would place health services provided under CHIP under the review of Professional Standards Review Organizations. These PSRO’s would be charged with maintaining high standards of care and reducing needless hospitalization. Operated ‘by groups of private physicians, professional review organizations can do much to ensure quality care while helping to bring about significant savings in health costs.
3. MORE BALANCED GROWTH IN HEALTH FACILITIES
Another provision of this legislation would call on the States to review building plans for hospitals, nursing homes and other health facilities. Existing health insurance has overemphasized the placement of patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Under this artificial stimulus, institutions have felt impelled to keep adding bed space. This has produced a growth of almost 75 percent in the number of hospital beds in the last twenty years, so that now we have a surplus of beds in many places and a poor mix of facilities in others. Under the legislation I am submitting, States can begin remedying this costly imbalance.
4. STATE ROLE
Another important provision of this legislation calls on the States to review the operation of health insurance carriers within their jurisdiction. The States would approve specific plans, oversee rates, ensure adequate disclosure, require an annual audit and take other appropriate measures. For health care providers, the States would assure fair reimbursement for physician services, drugs and institutional services, including a prospective reimbursement system for hospitals.
A number of States have shown that an effective job can be done in containing costs. Under my proposal all States would have an incentive to do the same. Only with effective cost control measures can States ensure that the citizens receive the increased health care they need and at rates they can afford. Failure on the part of States to enact the necessary authorities would prevent them from receiving any Federal support of their State-administered health assistance plan.
MAINTAINING A PRIVATE ENTERPRISE APPROACH
My proposed plan differs sharply with several of the other health insurance plans which have been prominently discussed. The primary difference is that my proposal would rely extensively on private insurers.
Any insurance company which could offer those benefits would be a potential supplier. Because private employers would have to provide certain basic benefits to their employees, they would have an incentive to seek out the best insurance company proposals and insurance companies would have an incentive to offer their plans at the lowest possible prices. If, on the other hand, the Government were to act as the insurer, there would be no competition and little incentive to hold down costs.
There is a huge reservoir of talent and skill in administering and designing health plans within the private sector. That pool of talent should be put to work.
It is also important to understand that the CHIP plan preserves basic freedoms for both the patient and doctor. The patient would continue to have a freedom of choice between doctors. The doctors would continue to work for their patients, not the Federal Government. By contrast, some of the national health plans that have been proposed in the Congress would place the entire health system under the heavy hand of the Federal Government, would add considerably to our tax burdens, and would threaten to destroy the entire system of medical care that has been so carefully built in America.
I firmly believe we should capitalize on the skills and facilities already in place, not replace them and start from scratch with a huge Federal bureaucracy to add to the ones we already have.
COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN–A PARTNERSHIP EFFORT
No program will work unless people want it to work. Everyone must have a stake in the process.
This Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan has been designed so that everyone involved would have both a stake in making it work and a role to play in the process consumer, provider, health insurance carrier, the States and the Federal Government. It is a partnership program in every sense.
By sharing costs, consumers would have a direct economic stake in choosing and using their community’s health resources wisely and prudently. They would be assisted by requirements that physicians and other providers of care make available to patients full information on fees, hours of operation and other matters affecting the qualifications of providers. But they would not have to go it alone either: doctors, hospitals and other providers of care would also have a direct stake in making the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan work. This program has been designed to relieve them of much of the red tape, confusion and delays in reimbursement that plague them under the bewildering assortment of public and private financing systems that now exist. Health-cards would relieve them of troublesome bookkeeping. Hospitals could be hospitals, not bill collecting agencies.
Comprehensive health insurance is an idea whose time has come in America.
There has long been a need to assure every American financial access to high quality health care. As medical costs go up, that need grows more pressing.
Now, for the first time, we have not just the need but the will to get this job done. There is widespread support in the Congress and in the Nation for some form of comprehensive health insurance.
Surely if we have the will, 1974 should also be the year that we find the way.
The plan that I am proposing today is, I believe, the very best way. Improvements can be made in it, of course, and the Administration stands ready to work with the Congress, the medical profession, and others in making those changes.
But let us not be led to an extreme program that would place the entire health care system under the dominion of social planners in Washington.
Let us continue to have doctors who work for their patients, not for the Federal Government. Let us build upon the strengths of the medical system we have now, not destroy it.
Indeed, let us act sensibly. And let us act now–in 1974–to assure all Americans financial access to high quality medical care.
The White House,
February 6, 1974.
Note: On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet and the transcript of a news briefing on the message by Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Caspar W. Weinberger.
Citation: John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters,The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California (hosted), Gerhard Peters (database). Available from World Wide Web: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=4337.
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