CONGRESS: GOP Task Force Floats ‘Health Marts’ Proposal
The Republican task force charged with designing a GOP managed care reform proposal is pushing a new plan that would set up "health marts" -- private, employer-formed "insurance-buying cooperatives" that would "offer employees more choices in doctors and benefits coverage," the Washington Times reports (Goldreich, 6/2). But nearly 60 consumer, labor and health care interest organizations are urging the task force to drop the plan, which they say could "turn back the clock" on the goal of providing affordable, accessible health care (Consumers Union release, 5/28). The Times reports that, if accepted, the health marts proposal could pave the way for "a dramatic rewrite of the nation's tax code" that could shift to workers the health insurance deductions which their employers already enjoy. The plan's backers also "hope that health marts will slow the rush to regulate" HMOs and also "insulate GOP candidates from Democratic candidates running against" HMOs this fall.
A 'Yes' From Norwood
The Times reports that the plan already has the approval of Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), and task force head Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) wants to incorporate the proposal into Norwood's patients' rights bill, which has the support of more than half of the House. The health marts plan would allow employers to buy into the marts using existing tax credits for employee benefits -- a proposal that would be a boon to "small businesses, which face high premiums because they have fewer workers to spread the risk of an employee becoming seriously and expensively ill" (6/2).
A 'No' From Consumer Groups
Fifty-seven national organizations, led by Consumers Union, signed a letter to members of Congress that blasted the health marts proposal on four counts: "It splits the sick from the healthy," it could "wipe out valuable state-protected benefits," it could lead to a system rife with conflicts of interest, and it neglects the individual market. They said they are also concerned that the plan "does not provide targeted subsidies to the working poor and those most in need of help" in paying for health insurance coverage, and that no defined benefits package is proposed. The letter urges members to "drop consideration of the health marts proposal" or "modify it so that it meets the needs of consumers" (release, 5/28). But task force members say they "intend for health marts to help transform the insurance industry to allow individuals to make their own decisions" about coverage. Heritage Foundation analyst Carrie Gavroa agreed: "We're realizing that the answer to health reform is tax reform. Eventually, people will be asking why do we even have the employer involved" (Times, 6/2).