Current Health Care Strategies Target Access, Affordability–Yet Again
A review of recent health care funding developments suggests most are addressing two issues: access to care and lower costs.
These are not new issues. Given that an estimated 41 million Americans have no health insurance coverage and that private health care insurance premium increases are in the double-digit range, public discussion over accessibility and affordability has been ongoing.
What is new, in 2003, are the strategies players are using to address the issues.
On the governmental level, both houses of Congress have recently passed legislation–S. 1 and H.R. 2596–that would put prescription drug coverage into Medicare for the first time ever.
These proposed plans are not without problems (see NU, July 14, 2003, page 19). But if the two chambers resolve the problems and if President Bush signs the legislation, 40 million seniors now in Medicare will gain increased access to prescription drug coverage, making the drugs themselves more affordable for many.
The House bill also targets cost savings in another area. It calls for tax deductibility of money contributed to health savings security accounts and health savings accounts.
States are making accessibility and affordability moves, too. For example, Illinois has expanded eligibility for its KidCare and FamilyCare programs. These programs provide comprehensive health care coverage to low income families and children, with funding shared with the federal government. Other states have similar programs.
As for the private sector, some initiatives there target ways to minimize the sting of double-digit cost increases in group medical plans.
Many carriers, for example, have debuted so-called consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs). These typically combine high-deductible medical insurance with reimbursement accounts (that employees can use to pay noninsured medical expense). The high-deductible component makes them controversial in the eyes of some critics, but the developers say employers are interested in seeing the designs due to the lower costs they entail.
These products “help employers hold down health benefit costs, while also offering consumers more choice and control,” contends Brad Utoft, vice president and product manager at Mutual of Omaha, which recently added a CDHP to its portfolio of medical plans.
The Mutual of Omaha offering includes informational services to help employees make medical decisions, Utoft points out. These include online access to medical claims status, balances in reimbursement accounts and prescription drug information.