NU Online News Service, May 10, 2004, 7:05 p.m. EDT – Employers, think tanks and politicians are trying to come up with ideas for ways to make “Cover the Uninsured Week” a vehicle for real change.[@@]

Sponsors of the week include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, and the AFL-CIO, Washington, and the co-chairmen are Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Supporters are organizing hundreds of Uninsured Week events.

The HR Policy Association, Washington, a group for senior human resources executives at large companies, may have made the biggest impact, by forming a pair of purchasing programs that will bargain for cheaper coverage with looser underwriting requirements for 4 million affiliated uninsured workers and dependents.

The 4 million uninsured people, who make up about 9% of the U.S. uninsured population, include part-time workers, temporary workers, pre-65 retirees, employees in waiting periods, former employees who have exhausted COBRA benefits and students who are no longer eligible for their parents’ plans.

One program, the Affordable Health Care Solutions, will shop for national coverage. Hewitt Associates Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., will design that program.

The other program, the Regional Health Care Quality Initiatives, will form a network of purchasing coalitions in areas where the HR Policy Association’s member companies employ more than 5% of the workforce.

“These coalitions will mobilize their buying power and choose a single health care plan for the region to secure better pricing, benefits, and higher quality insurance for participating employers and their insured employees,” the association says.

The targeted regions include Detroit, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles, the association says.

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, has put out a statement cautiously welcoming the employer initiative.

“By making this important issue a priority, employer leaders are putting their considerable clout to work building momentum for action,” Ignagni says. “In June, our board will be putting forward specific ideas on meeting the challenge of making existing risk pooling arrangements more viable, while, at the same time, ensuring that such arrangements do not adversely effect employees who have health care coverage.”

In related news:

- Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Washington, says simply having the government cover all 44 million U.S. residents who are uninsured during part of any given year would cost only $48 billion per year. Government agencies already spend about $35 billion a year on care for the uninsured, the commission estimates.

- Other groups warn that poorly designed programs could aggravate the plight of the uninsured by channeling people who already have ordinary private coverage into inefficient, expensive government-run or government-subsidized programs. The National Center for Policy Analysis, Washington, which supports wide use of options such as the new health savings accounts, points out that about one-third of the uninsured now live in households that earn more than $75,000 per year. Since 1993, the number of uninsured in households with incomes greater than $75,000 increased 114%, while the number of uninsured with annual incomes less than $25,000 fell 17%, the NCPA says.

- John Kerry put out a package of proposals that could have come from AHIP. He wants to use tax cuts to reduce workers’ share of premiums by up to $1,000 per year. His other ideas include allowing reimportation of drugs; eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in our medical system; ensuring that all Americans have secure, private electronic medical records; giving health care providers incentives to simplify and streamline their paperwork; rewarding providers for investing in technology; and “substantially reducing meritless claims and enhancing opportunities to resolve claims with[out] litigation.”