By

Washington

A Senate Republican task force has released a health care reform plan that it says will save $137 billion annually in health care costs while extending insurance coverage to up to 25 million Americans.

The proposal, which was outlined at a press briefing, brings together into one package many health care reform proposals that Republicans have supported for several years.

These include expanding health insurance tax credits and medical liability reform.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., says he hopes the task force recommendations will serve as a blueprint for decisive action on health care both this year and for the next Congressional session.

While the United States has the best health care in the world, he says, a “perfect storm” of conditions have combined to push health care prices beyond the reach of many Americans.

“There is no silver bullet solution to this complex array of challenges,” Gregg says.

“Republicans have successfully passed bills throughout the 108th Congress that have and will make health care more accessible, affordable, efficient and consumer-friendly,” he says. “But we are not satisfied.”

The task force proposes to expand the availability of health insurance through a combination of initiatives targeted at specific groups.

For low income people without access to insurance, the task force would provide new tax credits and subsidies for the purchase of health insurance.

In addition, the plan would preempt state laws, such as mandated benefit laws, that limit choices available to consumers and increase costs.

The plan also would expand an existing program that provides incentives to states to establish high-risk pools for people who cannot acquire insurance in the voluntary market.

For small businesses, the plan would preempt state laws in order to streamline and harmonize interstate regulation that limits plan choice and increases costs.

The plan identifies Association Health Plans as one possible option to achieve this goal.

For pre-retirees, defined as those between 55 and 64 years of age, the plan would provide new financial assistance and tax credits to make insurance more affordable.

For others without insurance, such as children, the plan also calls for expanding the public safety net by increasing the number of Community Health Centers.

To cut costs, the plan calls for medical liability reform, reduction of bureaucratic red tape and providing more information about health care options and quality to consumers.

Industry representatives are praising the task force plan, although they do not endorse every aspect of it.

Karen Ignagni, president of Americas Health Insurance Plans, praises Congress for putting health care at the top of the national agenda.

“The proposals put forth by Congress recognize that the uninsured are not a monolithic population and this problem will not be solved by a one-size-fits-all approach,” she says.

She also says AHIP is encouraged that the task force lists AHPs as an option but does not specifically endorse them.

“AHIP has long voiced serious concerns about the potential negative effects of AHPs on all health care consumers,” Ignagni says.

Mary R. Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, which represents both insurance companies and employers, praises the task force for assembling a “toolbox” of policy options that can lead to a bipartisan package.

She particularly praises the task force for supporting refundable tax credits that can be used to pay for health insurance.

“This is a sensible direction, particularly when we know that 80% of the uninsured population lives in a wage-earning household,” Grealy says.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, May 14, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.