Arnold and Bush are going to war over healthcare. Arnold wants the feds to give him almost $4 billion more to subsidize his insurance industry; Bush wants to cut the money he spends on healthcare. Any true healthcare reform will have to deal with the cost problem caused by unnecessary private insurance companies. The other big news in the healthcare cauldron also comes from California, where the state’s top HMO regulator is threatening to investigate insurance thugs who toss sick people off their rolls without cause. Elsewhere, Massachusetts’ half-hearted reform attempts will force consumers who already have health insurance to buy more plans, New Jersey and New York are coming up with new proposals, New Orleans finally figures out how to get some healthcare, and single-payer activists around the country make their case.
Brought to you by the Nurses Organizing Committee as we organize to make 2007 the Year of Single-Payer Healthcare.
The Los Angeles Times carries the story of the coming war between Schwarzenegger and Bush over healthcare dollars. Remember that each is committed to protecting the profits of the private health insurers—and each needs to find more healthcare dollars for their own political purposes. In Arnold’s case, he’s looking for about $4 billion a year to subsidize the state’s insurance industry. Not gonna happen:
"That's a big number on an annual basis," said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "California hasn't yet passed a law [implementing the governor's plan], but when they do, I would think people are going to take a deep breath."
The cost of helping states fund their health plans has already attracted the attention of budget cutters because it is complicating President Bush's stated goal of balancing the federal budget in five years. In his new budget, scheduled to go to Congress on Monday, Bush is expected to call for a substantial slowdown in federal healthcare spending. Some of the cuts Bush proposes could affect programs Schwarzenegger is counting on to help pay for his plan, such as Medicaid.
Yep, this healthcare reform is stuck between Iraq and a hard place. Remember that a main benefit of single-payer health systems is that they allow for genuine cost savings by rooting out the 34% waste committed by private insurers.
Those private insurers must feel extraordinarily vulnerable right now. A growing public outcry has targeted, in addition to their profits, their “recissions.” Recission is industry-speak for revoking the insurance of sick people. Is California about to crack down on them?
The state's top HMO regulator said Monday that health plans should be required to get outside review before dropping a policyholder, a dramatic step up in oversight that probably would face stiff challenges from the industry.
Cindy Ehnes, director of the Department of Managed Health Care, said she hadn't yet developed details on how such a requirement would work. But she said any external input — possibly by the department or some independent panel — could significantly enhance policyholders' safeguards against the loss of coverage.
"It is clear to me that we have to have some independent oversight," Ehnes said.
Chris Ohman, president of the California Assn. of Health Plans, contended that regulations to limit rescissions would not be necessary if the governor's plan were adopted and insurers had to sell to everyone.
"We see pursuing new regulation of rescission as a contradiction of the governor's overall policy direction," he said.
Elsewhere, Massachusetts’ plan mandating individuals purchase private insurance is forcing patients to sign up for all sorts of supplemental policies—much to the evil glee of the companies selling the product:
More than 200,000 people with health insurance would have to buy additional coverage to meet proposed minimum standards under the state's new health insurance law, according to a count completed by insurers yesterday.
Most of the individuals do not have coverage for prescription drugs or have drug coverage that is more restrictive than the minimum proposed by the state board implementing the law. The Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector board is scheduled to vote on the standards in March. Individuals would face a fine of about $200 next year and more in future years, if they do not have insurance that meets the standards.
"It's very troubling," said Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts and a member of the Connector board. "The new law was about expanding access for people without any health insurance. I don't think we should be forcing people who do have some coverage to spend more."
In California, the state GOP demonstrates that it doesn’t have any idea what to do about health access problems, while New Orleans has figured out that if we can’t have a healthcare system, perhaps we can have a healthcare fair.
I’m not sure what New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is up to; he says he’ll cut Medicaid to pay for more health insurance. Sounds like he’s re-shuffling around healthcare dollars. In New Jersey, the individual mandate—aka, the “forced market” for insurance companies—is coming down the turnpike, at least until everyone realize it doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, Congressman Pete Stark makes clear that Bush’s healthcare proposals will only make the situation much worse and have no political future, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin pushes a bill to allow states to use federal money to experiment with single-payer health systems, Connecticut could save $1 billion if it tried a single-payer system, and blogger Terri Emerick at My Left Wing gives us an overview of HR 676, the “Medicare for All” single-payer bill that was recently re-introduced.