NU Online News Service, May 11, 2004, 3:22 p.m. EDT – The U.S. Senate Republican Task Force on Health Care Costs and the Uninsured has come out with a major package of recommendations for reforming the U.S. health finance system.[@@]

The task force, appointed 6 months ago by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says the government should try to improve “safety net” programs for the uninsured and improve the efficiency of the entire health care system in addition to working to expand access to health coverage.

“Cumulatively, the recommendations in this package would result in annual savings to our nation’s health care system of $137 billion, insurance coverage for 17 million to 25 million more Americans and access to safety net care for 5 million more uninsured individuals,” according to Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, the task force chairman.

The proposal includes separate sections on the cost of care, the plight of the uninsured and support for safety net programs.

The health care cost section recommends that the federal government:

- Promote more and better use of technology.

- Reform the medical liability system.

- Strengthen health plans’ rights to recover from “third parties” that are responsible for injuries to the plans’ insureds.

- Reduce bureaucratic red tape and burdensome regulations.

- Curtail waste, fraud and abuse in federally funded programs.

The section that deals with the uninsured echoes calls by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, for “targeted” solutions that complement existing private health insurance plans. In this section, the task force recommends that the government:

- Provide new financial assistance and tax credits to make insurance more affordable.

- Promote insurance market reform and private health insurance alternatives, such as “association health plans,” or self-insured, multistate health plans for individuals and small employers.

- Remove barriers to allow for new multi-state pooling options.

- Support and extend “last-resort” insurance plans.

- Make sure the new health savings accounts are user-friendly and widely available.

- Create incentives for young adults to purchase lifetime, portable insurance.

- Improve enrollment in existing public programs.

- Expand coverage options for low-income entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals.

The third section, which deals with the safety net for the uninsured, recommends that the government:

- Increase the number of community health centers by providing new funding for systems that serve the uninsured.

- Increase access to specialty care within safety net systems.

- Make prescription drugs more affordable and available within safety net systems.

- Encourage more doctor and provider participation in the safety net system.

- Reduce regulatory burdens and enhance the provision of care.

The task force has posted its recommendations on the Web at http://republican.senate.gov/costcoveragecare/index.cfm