As the $829 billion 10-year Obama Health Insurance Reform bill passed the Senate Finance Committee, the Obama White House and America’s insurance industry took off their gloves. Claiming that premiums for the typical American family would rise 111 percent over the next decade, increasing to $4,000 per year by 2019 the industry said, “Imposing new taxes and fees on health care services and on insurance, and in particular the guarantee that prices could not be raised or policies revoked cannot and will not reduce health care costs.”

The Health Insurance Reform currently being debated in Congress would essentially expand health care insurance in four ways:

  • Increase the number of people who qualify for Medicare (e.g. dropping eligibility age from 65 to 55)
  • Increase the number of people who would qualify for Medicaid (e.g. increasing maximum income levels to 150% of the federal poverty level)
  • Relax qualification requirements for private insurance policies
  • Create a federal health insurance plan

The latest plan would require all Americans to carry health insurance or pay a stiff fine. It would expand government health programs for the poor and be paid for with cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. The President has said that there would be no program developed to compete with private insurers who would now be unable to deny coverage based on someone’s personal health history.

As a presidential candidate, Obama said he would “establish a new public insurance program” alongside private health care plans. To paraphrase recent statements, “We have taken over the auto companies, banks, A.I.G. and student loans – now it’s health cares’ turn.”

Is it starting to sink in Comrade?

However it’s accomplished, most agree that with 60 percent of personal bankruptcies occurring due to unpaid medical bills, 47 million uninsured Americans is simply too many…and that change is needed.

Supporters of the “public option” plan have said it could save money by using Medicare rates and fee schedules to pay hospitals and doctors.

That is what worries the medical profession, who say Medicare pays them less than market rates paid by private insurers and see the public option as a step toward a single-payer system in which the government would end up paying most of the nation’s health care bill and supplanting private insurers.

Obama denies that he wants to drive private insurers from the market, but many others support the ultimate goal of “Medicare for all.” Estimates indicate that more than 100 million people might sign up for a government-run insurance plan.

Another option that some legislators have been focusing on is nonprofit, member-owned insurance cooperatives (“co-ops”) that would not be controlled by the government.

With so much emphasis placed directly on cost and quality, another principle, “access”, often gets forgotten in the rhetoric that is directed at one of the economy’s largest and most complex sectors.

Health insurance reform must focus on access as the cornerstone of a sound health care policy. And that by harnessing the power of the Internet the industry will hopefully reap the rewards of an increased market share, strengthened clinical relationships and improved work flow; thus lowering costs to both themselves and the patient.

“Portability” is a catchword this year. Health insurance needs to be able to follow people wherever they go. If they move from job to job, the health insurance should follow along. The worker should not have to start all over, dealing with issues like pre-existing conditions and finding the right insurance.

As the health care issue rages, an array of converging economic factors has drawn an increasing number of parties to voice their concerns. As the population is presented with more choices and greater responsibilities in managing their own health (should everyone pay for others’ unhealthy lifestyles?), the health insurance companies are realizing the need to run more efficient operations, improve quality of service and better manage costs.

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