President Bush referred briefly to health coverage Tuesday during his State of the Union address.

In a speech dominated by talk about national security, the president repeated previous calls to improve health savings account tax breaks and create a system of national association health plans that would give small employers access to the same freedom from Employee Retirement Income Security Act requirements that large, self-insured health plans now enjoy.

The president also emphasized the value of limiting medical malpractice suits, making health coverage more portable and promoting use of electronic patient records and other health information technology.

In supporting documents, Bush suggested expanding HSA tax breaks to, for example, let employers contribute more to HSAs for employees with chronic illnesses.

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, is praising comments about HSAs and medical malpractice reform.

“In just 2 years, more than 3 million consumers–many of whom were previously uninsured–have chosen health savings accounts,” Ignagni says in a statement. “Boosting contribution limits and making HSAs more flexible will enable more consumers to access these innovative products.

Ignagni also is welcoming the president’s call for medical malpractice reform, citing a study commissioned by AHIP that suggests that medical liability insurance premiums and defensive medicine account for 10% of health care costs.

But Joe Lieber, a securities analyst at Washington Analysis, Washington, is playing down the president’s proposals on health finance and other topics.

“While it was widely expected that Bush would focus much attention on health care and energy, many of the proposals were not new (i.e. medical malpractice reform, association health plans) and are unlikely to pass while others have little immediate investment impact (i.e. clean coal, nuclear energy, solar),” Lieber says.