Experts Meet Secretly To Discuss Recommendations for the Uninsured
The New York Times on Sunday examined the efforts of 24 "ideologically disparate leaders representing the health care industry, corporations and unions, and conservative and liberal groups" who have been "meeting secretly for months" to come to a consensus on how to provide health coverage to the uninsured.
The group -- created in October 2004 after talks between Families USA Director Ron Pollack and UnitedHealth Group Chair William McGuire -- includes top officials from the Heritage Foundation, the United States Chamber of Commerce, AARP, the AFL-CIO, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, the BlueCross and BlueShield Association, Johnson & Johnson, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, Pfizer and the Service Employees International Union.
The group, which has been meeting in secret to avoid political pressures, "has not endorsed any specific plan," but participants say they have "made progress in trying to overcome the ideological impasse that has stymied action on the problem for eight years," the Times reports. Participants say they "are not trying to remake the health care system or guarantee insurance for every American through one big program," and the group is taking a "pragmatic approach ... looking for incremental steps," according to the Times.
The group is considering such proposals as:
- Requiring parents to arrange for health insurance for children through a certain age, such as 21. Parents could obtain tax credits if the children are not eligible for public health insurance programs such as Medicaid;
- Allowing workers to designate an amount of money to be withheld from their paychecks, along with taxes, to be used for paying insurance premiums if employers do not offer health coverage;
- Giving low-income individuals and families and small businesses tax credits to help them pay health insurance costs. The full amount of the credit would be sent directly to the insurer;
- Providing financial incentives to states that expand Medicaid to all adults with incomes lower than the federal poverty level; and
- Offering grants to states to help them form health insurance purchasing pools, in which individuals and small businesses could participate.
The group will use budget analysts to estimate the proposals' costs and will choose their final recommendations. The group hopes to make recommendations on health care reform to Congress and the Bush administration by the end of 2005.
Stuart Butler, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, said, "It's a coalition built of frustration. True believers on the left and the right have been stymied on this issue." Neil Trautwein, assistant vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the group could "produce some wondrous proposals or could blow sky-high."
Mary Frank, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said, "People are uninsured for different reasons. No one solution will work for everyone. We need different solutions for different groups of the uninsured." Kate Sullivan Hare, executive director of health care policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, "This effort holds as much promise as any I've participated in over the last decade, probably more" (Pear, New York Times, 5/29).
"No serious effort has been made" to address increasing health care costs and the rising number of uninsured U.S. residents since the Clinton health care plan "went up in flames" in 1994, Daniel Schorr, NPR senior news analyst says in a commentary on NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday.
However, "some stirrings in the ashes of health care reform" are occurring in the private sector, although it "remains to be seen" how the gap between private health plans and public financing will be bridged (Schorr, "All Things Considered," NPR, 5/30). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.