By Jim Connolly

Sebelius Notes Healthcare Approach of Dems And Republicans

San Francisco

Noting the different approach to healthcare advocated by Democrats and Republican presidential candidates, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius noted that President Bush and now Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Republican presidential candidate, have been the beneficiaries of health care for decades” but now they would deny others the type of care that they have received. “In the absence of government health care, Bush and McCain and their families wouldn’t have such health care because they receive it through their employer.”

In an exclusive interview with National Underwriter, Sebelius noted, “I don’t think that there is any question that the Democratic candidates support universal health care as one of the principles going forward. Sen. McCain is advocating more of the status quo.”

The remarks were made in response to a question over whether the United States is becoming 2 Americas, with different access and quality of health care. Sebelius, a Democrat, was the keynote speaker during the summer meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo. She has been referenced as a possible future candidate for national office.

Sebelius became Kansas’ 44th governor in 2003 and was reelected in 2006.

Sebelius is a former Kansas insurance commissioner and NAIC president. During her tenure as insurance commissioner, she served as chair of the Health Insurance and Managed Care “B” Committee.

“I am hopeful that there will be a much more comprehensive solution to solving the health care crisis than just addressing health insurance,” she said. Thirty cents on every dollar is used to cover administrative costs and 16 cents of every dollar is “the tax we pay for Americans who don’t have insurance.”

“Almost half of every dollar is not paying for health care at all,” Sebelius asserted.

What is needed, she said during the interview with National Underwriter, is to “start paying for prevention and to start to shift the payment system to a different set of rewards and thus a different outcome.”

For instance, she said, those with diabetes need to be encouraged to stay on their medication. She also maintained that it is critical that we make better use of technology, noting for instance that the current billing systems are not efficient. “There needs to be more efficiency and reduction of the cost of paperwork.” Better technology would also help better coordinate medical care among doctors and different medications prescribed by physicians for a patient, according to Sebelius.

Americans must also be encouraged to be more personally responsible by exercising, eating right and not smoking, she said. Such behavioral changes would have “an enormous and immediate impact,” she maintained.

Right now, the cost of health care is being born in part by everybody, including insurance offered by employers, she said. But the government must help share that expense if the U.S. wants to maintain global competitiveness, she added. Executives of car manufacturers have stated “fairly compellingly” that health care costs have helped make them less competitive against car manufacturers in Japan and Korea, Sebelius noted.

There is a 2-step process that must be undertaken, she said. First, the funding gap must be closed. For the lowest income levels in our society, there must be public/private contributions and “a private market for other folks.” Once this is addressed, administrative costs must be squeezed out of the system, Sebelius continued.

Sebelius noted the importance of the SCHIP(State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and said that one of the best templates for universal health care would be the system developed by the Veteran’s Administration because of its effective containment of costs.

On the issue of preemption of state authority under ERISA, Sebelius said that the law doesn’t work well when it comes to helping consumers with complaints or with helping them get bills paid. “What is alarming is that in the past, President Bush and now Sen. McCain wants to expand ERISA protections to small businesses and associations.” Such a step would damage consumer protections in medical situations which in many cases can be life and death. Having a continued, “timely, appropriate response is essential,” Sebelius emphasized. “The plan advocated by Republicans would dismantle the market.”