WASHINGTON BUREAU — Obama administration suggestions that a public health insurance plan “is not essential” to health reform efforts are generating cautious optimism in the health insurance industry.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggested on several television talk shows over the weekend that moves to cut the “public option” from a broad health reform bill might not be a deal breaker.
“We are encouraged by the comments … that a public plan is not an essential element of healthcare reform,” says Robelynn Abadie, president of AHIA – NAIFA Health and Employee Benefits, Falls Church, Va. “We have maintained that meaningful and cost-effective healthcare reform can be achieved without the public plan option.”
The National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., also is welcoming Sebelius’ remarks.
“Sebelius’ comments that a government-run public health insurance plan is “not the essential element” of comprehensive health reform-if this is indeed the administration’s new position-is a welcome recognition of what Americans have been conveying for months and more recently during town hall discussions,” NAHU says.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, notes that, despite Sebelius’ comments, all 4 bills now on the table call for a public plan.
“We share the concerns that doctors, hospitals, employers have all raised about the unintended consequences a government plan would have,” says Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington. “Accordingly, if we do the type of market reforms and consumer protections that our industry has proposed and which have broad support, a government-run plan in any form is not necessary.”
The Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Washington, has issued a “yellow alert” to its members, cautioning that Sebelius’ explicit support for health care cooperatives in her talk show appearances “is going to lead to a frenzied, push-and-pull lobbying campaign to define the contours of such coops.”
WHAT THEY SAID
Sebelius said on CNN that the critical areas in health reform are “coverage for all Americans; lowering the crushing cost for everyone; making sure that we have new rules for insurance companies, that they can’t dump people out of the marketplace if you get sick, that they can’t drop your coverage based on a pre-existing condition, that you can’t be priced out because you’re a woman instead of a man, and [that] gender discrimination won’t be allowed to continue anymore.”
Several of the major health bills include provisions concerning compensation for doctors who provide end-of-life consultations. Sebelius said on ABC that moves to delete the public option and end-of-life consultation provisions are “not deal breakers.”
An administration priority “is to stabilize the employer marketplace,” Sebelius said.
“Small-business owners right now are dropping coverage because they can’t any longer afford it,” she said. “They can’t stay in the market…. With the new tax incentives that are part of health reform, small-business owners would be encouraged to actually stabilize their insurance plans, to offer coverage to their employees. They’d have tax credits. They’d have some help for the low-income employees to be able to afford the coverage.”
Another key player in the health bill efforts — Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a participant in the bipartisan talks now under way at the Senate Finance Committee — said Sunday on Fox News that hope for a government-run public option being included in a final reform bill is all but dead.