NU Online News Service, April 29, 2005, 4:24 p.m. EDT

A leading health insurance executive is giving qualified support to the idea of requiring individuals without health coverage to buy coverage.[@@]

Dr. John Rowe, chairman of Aetna Inc., Hartford, says he might support individual health coverage requirements if the requirements were structured carefully and used broad-based funding mechanisms to subsidize the cost of coverage for the poor.

Lawmakers in California and other states are debating universal health insurance proposals that would require uninsured individuals with the means to buy health insurance to do so, to avoid the possibility that those individuals will rely on charity care or state health programs to pay their medical bills if they end up with severe health problems. Supporters of the measures plan to try to draw attention to them next week, during Cover the Uninsured Week.

“Aetna believes that all Americans should have health coverage, and an individual coverage requirement that encourages personal responsibility could be a critical step toward that goal,” Rowe said during a speech at Aetna’s annual meeting, according to a written version of the speech distributed by Aetna.

But requiring employers or any one industry to cover the cost of purchase subsidies for low-income workers is a bad idea, Rowe said.

Rowe added that Aetna believes that an individual health insurance purchase requirement should be just one part of a comprehensive plan to reduce the number of uninsured.