CBO, Insurers Show Flexibility On Reform Plans
The Congressional Budget Office says preserving the independence of private health insurers is a key to health reform, the Washington Post reports. Constricting the role of private insurers with strict regulations, mandates for individuals to buy coverage and insurers to offer plans, and the introduction of a new, government-run plan would fold much of the health care system into the federal budget, the CBO said in a report Wednesday.
But, a looser system that allows many insurers to offer a wide variety of plans at different prices could accommodate both the individual mandate, and the government-run plan in what the CBO described as "a largely private-sector system," that wouldn't necessarily expand the federal balance sheet.
The CBO's current view differs from that office's approach during reform efforts in the Clinton administration, the Post reports. In 1994, the CBO found "a proposed mandate on employers and employees to buy into a government-run health system would constitute a form of taxation and thus a massive expansion of the federal government. The decision was one of several by the CBO that fueled Republican attacks and helped to torpedo reform efforts" (Montgomery, 5/28).
While Congress's own staff appears to be pushing Democratic lawmakers towards a more hospitable approach to private insurers than other options that have been discussed, five of the largest insurance companies have also increased lobbying efforts on the Hill in the first quarter of this year by over $1 million compared with 2008, to $6.4 million, the Associated Press reports.
"Insurers have said such government competition would hurt employer-based health coverage and make it harder to reform the overall system," according to the AP. "They also worry that it could hurt them if the government option competes for the business of middle-income Americans." UnitedHealth Group alone spent $1.5 million, the most of any individual insurer (Murphy, 5/28).
UnitedHealth also made suggestions that the company says could save the Medicare program $540 billion over ten years, "as a constructive contribution to the debate on how national health reform can proceed," a UnitedHealth executive told the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Diaz, 5/27).
The suggestions include 15 ways to encourage more cost-effective care by "sending patients to less expensive, more efficient doctors, reducing hospital visits by the elderly and cutting unnecessary care," according to a second AP article (Werner, 5/27).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.