Bush Promotes HSA Proposal
President Bush on Wednesday in a speech at Wendy's International headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, promoted his proposed expansion of health savings accounts and other health care proposals, the Akron Beacon Journal reports (Willard, Akron Beacon Journal, 2/16). Bush decided to speak at Wendy's headquarters because the company began to offer HSAs in 2005 and has reduced health care spending as a result (Reichmann, AP/Houston Chronicle, 2/16).
In his fiscal year 2007 budget recommendations, Bush proposed a number of provisions to encourage the use of HSAs, such as measures to allow higher contributions to the accounts and provide tax credits to low-income uninsured individuals enrolled in high-deductible health plans associated with HSAs (California Healthline, 2/7).
In his speech, Bush said that HSAs provide enrollees with more authority over their health care. He added that expanded use of HSAs would reduce health care costs because enrollees would compare prices when they purchased medical services, a practice that he said would prompt providers to reduce prices (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 2/16).
Bush also said that individuals should have the ability to take HSAs with them when they change jobs and that enrollees should not pay taxes on out-of-pocket expenditures for premiums for the high-deductible health plans associated with HSAs (Akron Beacon Journal, 2/16). About three million U.S. residents are currently enrolled in HSAs (VandeHei, Washington Post, 2/16).
In addition to an expansion of HSAs, Bush called for caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, a national system of electronic health records and a proposal to allow small businesses to form association health plans.
"When patients control how their health care dollars are spent, the result is better treatment and lower cost," Bush said (Akron Beacon Journal, 2/16). He added, "Maybe it helps preventive medicine ... when you're watching your own money and you realize that if you take care of your body and you exercise and you don't do stupid things, you end up savings money. And when you save money, it's your money, not the company's money" (Los Angeles Times, 2/16).
Bush also said that the proposal to expand HSAs would help some of the 45 million U.S. residents who lack health insurance (Bumiller, New York Times, 2/16).
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that the health proposals that Bush promoted in his speech "will make the health care crisis worse." He said that the proposal to expand HSAs "will increase the number of uninsured Americans, make health care more expensive for millions of Americans and do nothing to help" the uninsured (Washington Post, 2/16).
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "Sadly, the president's health care plan will only make a bad situation worse." He said that the proposal to expand HSAs "just helps the healthy and wealthy and leaves the rest of American behind" (New York Times, 2/16).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that the proposals to expand HSAs and allow the formation of AHPs would fail. She said, "Neither of them lowers the cost of health care. Neither of them gives more access to more people to health care" (Murray, Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/16).
In related news, Allan Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, on Tuesday met with hospital executives to discuss a Bush proposal to offer patients more detailed information on the cost of health care services, CQ HealthBeat reports. He said that implementation of the proposal might require legislation.
In addition, Hubbard said that Bush would ask HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt to develop a voluntary program for hospitals to report such cost information (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 2/15).
On Tuesday in speech to the AARP board of directors, former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that HSAs are "good for certain people" but added that they are "not the panacea for everybody." Thompson called for a "system of mandated coverage in which states would place the uninsured in pools and insurance companies would be invited to submit bids on how much they would charge to cover them, among other changes," CQ HealthBeat reports.
He added that a program to provide health coverage to uninsured individuals would benefit the economy (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 2/15).
Leavitt on Thursday is scheduled to answer questions about the health proposals that Bush promoted in his speech in an "Ask the White House" online chat. The complete transcript will be available online after the chat.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.