NU Online News Service, March 9, 2004, 1:42 p.m. EST, Washington – The biggest U.S. health insurance trade group will be calling itself “America’s Health Insurance Plans.”[@@]

The Washington-based group that was temporarily known as AAHP-HIAA also unveiled a new, “integrated” health care reform policy initiative that will combine a focus on the quality of care and on access as well as on price.

The initiative represents “a new way of thinking about how to improve health care,” says AHIP President Karen Ignagni. “The more we work on these issues, the more we understand that the priorities of quality, access and affordability are closely interrelated, and that progress in one area can yield significant results elsewhere.”

The American Association of Health Plans, Washington, and the Health Insurance Association of America, Washington, formed the group now known as AHIP by merging in 2003.

Ignagni spoke at a press briefing announcing the group’s new name and new policy agenda.

AHIP is not pursuing specific legislation at this time because legislating takes a multiyear effort, Ignagni says.

Instead, Ignagni says, AHIP wants to discuss its policy initiative with as many stakeholders as possible to develop partnerships aimed at achieving reform.

The first component of the new policy is improving quality, Ignagni says. She says the nation must invest in quality research and advanced evidence-based medicine.

Ignagni notes that the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality will receive only $303 million in funding in fiscal year 2004, which amounts to just 1% of the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

In addition, Ignagni says, research must be made more transparent and accessible for both providers and consumers.

As for evidence-based medicine, she notes that AHIP has asked every state that requires external review of health plan decisions to base those reviews on evidence-based medicine. So far, she says, not one state has agreed to do so.

The second component is improving access to care, Ignagni says. AHIP argues that the uninsured population must be “disaggregated” so that programs can target the specific problems that cause people to be uninsured.

AHIP is recommending that policymakers consider a variety of approaches to reducing the number of uninsured Americans, including forming high-risk health pools, providing bridge loans to help workers maintain their coverage when they become unemployed, expanding public programs for individuals living below the poverty line and offering tax incentives for higher income workers who are uninsured.

The third component, Ignagni says, is increasing the affordability of care. Ignagni says lowering the cost of care will require legal reform as well as examination of the effects of mandates on health care costs.