Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Teddy Kennedy, Consensus And Healthcare

One of the points that the news reports of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death keeps making was his ability to cross the aisle and reach consensus with fellow senators in the U.S. Senate.
Tributes coming in attest to that ability. Among the insurance trade groups to praise Kennedy are: America’s Health Insurance Plans and the National Association of Health Underwriters, both in Washington; and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, Des Plaines, Ill.

It is a point worth noting and a skill that may be an important component when the healthcare issue is debated in Congress over the coming weeks, as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., rightly points out today.

The NAIC notes that “reducing costs and fixing the health care system will require collaboration and compromise among the federal government, state governments, providers and consumers alike, and it is critical to steer clear of the current, unsustainable path where health care costs devour an ever-increasing percentage of the national economy.”

The NAIC also correctly notes that “Constructive debate around health care reform is essential, but it should be rooted in the facts, with a clear understanding of the difficult policy decisions facing the nation.”

“There is no serious dispute that our present system fails to cover millions of Americans and costs all of us too much,” said Roger Sevigny, NAIC president and New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner.

But, “in order to finance health care through insurance as efficiently and as affordably as possible, everyone – the young, the old, the healthy, and the sick – has to be in the system,” said Sandy Praeger, Kansas Insurance Commissioner and Chair of the NAIC’s Health Insurance and Managed Care Committee. “The current proposals would prohibit health insurers from denying someone insurance simply because he or she has been treated for a pre-existing condition. Similarly, the proposals would prohibit insurers from using health status, gender or occupation when setting premiums.”

Other points that the NAIC makes is that the current proposals “eliminate caps on annual or lifetime benefits under a health insurance policy. For patients with high-cost conditions like hemophilia, who can exhaust these caps very quickly, this change will make certain that their policy delivers meaningful coverage. The proposals also acknowledge that getting everyone in the system will require adequate federal subsidies so that persons below designated income levels receive assistance in purchasing health insurance. Without subsidies, the cost of coverage, even with everyone in the pool, is too great to be affordable for millions of Americans.”

The NAIC notes that consensus can be attained “if the reform proposals are judged on their substance. And it notes that “there is far too much at stake to let this opportunity to improve health care slip away.”

I think Ted Kennedy would give his nod to that statement. Maybe he is.

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