NU Online News Service, Jan. 21, 2004, 4:20 p.m. EST, Washington – President Bush is drawing strong praise from the health insurance industry for most of his State of the Union address.[@@]

Overall, Bush received high marks from industry representatives for devoting a portion of his State of the Union message to health care issues and endorsing market-based initiatives. But the president’s continued support for association health plans worries some in the industry.

Michael Kerley, executive vice president of the Association of Health Insurance Agents, Falls Church, Va., says AHIA welcomes the president’s opposition to a government-run system.

“AHIA has long supported the president’s push for helping to cover the uninsured through policy initiatives such as the newly minted health savings accounts,” Kerley says. “More Americans will be better served through these proposed policies than through dismantling the system that is considered the finest in the world.”

Karen Ignagni, president of AAHP-HIAA, says health insurers couldn’t agree more with the president that promoting affordability and empowering consumers are top health care priorities for 2004.

“We also agree with this administration, and with many members of Congress, that the private sector must be an integral partner in this effort,” Ignagni adds.

Janet Trautwein, vice president of government affairs at the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., says NAHU is pleased to see the strong commitment from the president to medical liability reform.

Runaway lawsuits have forced physicians to leave their practices in many locations, and they increase the cost of care by promoting use of defensive medicine, Trautwein says.

However, Bush drew criticism from some industry representatives for his support of AHPs, which would give small businesses a vehicle for banding together to offer health insurance exempt from state insurance regulation.

Although AHIA will work hard to support the president on issues such as tax-free insurance premiums for HSAs and refundable tax credits for individuals and families, it will work just as hard against AHPs, Kerley says.

“AHIA has grave concerns that current AHP legislation would lead to market segmentation, consumer fraud and insolvency,” he says.

Some health care advocacy groups are criticizing the president’s overall health care agenda.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, Washington, says only the wealthiest and healthiest people in America would receive health coverage as a result of enactment of the tax credit proposal.

“When the proposed tax credits lure the wealthiest and healthiest into high-deductible health plans, they will leave only the sicker and poorer in traditional insurance,” Pollack says. “As a result, premiums for people who remain in traditional insurance, those who need health care the most, are likely to soar.”