Newspapers Examine Health Savings Accounts, Bush ‘Ownership Society’ Agenda
Two newspapers on Sunday examined the "ownership society" agenda of President Bush and how experts view health savings accounts and other proposals under which consumers would have more responsibility over their health care costs. Summaries of the articles appear below.
New York Times: Bush in his Inaugural Address on Thursday will present his ownership society "vision," which includes HSAs, to help encourage "fundamental changes" to "Americans' relationship with the government to allow (or, critics say, to force) people to look less to Washington and to take more responsibility for their finances," the Times reports. In a speech last week, Vice President Dick Cheney said that in health care and other areas, "ownership is a path to greater opportunity, more freedom and more control over your own life, and this is a goal worthy of a great nation." According to the Times, "It has been "impossible to prove whether these accounts lower costs and whether the workers are satisfied with their ownership" because HSAs remain unpopular among consumers and employers. Robert Reich, secretary of labor under former President Bill Clinton, said that "people will, through bad luck or poor decision-making, find themselves in dire straits" with HSAs. He added, "The whole purpose of social insurance is so you won't find yourself in old age without any assets or find yourself poor and sick and without access to health care" (Rosenbaum, New York Times, 1/16).
- Washington Post: New "consumer-driven" health plans -- which include high-deductible plans with HSAs -- would allow consumers to "take control of their financial destinies and reduce their reliance on employers and government," as Bush has said, but they also could "wreak havoc" on the health care system by "luring" young and healthy individuals from "mainstream plans and fracturing the risk pool," the Post reports. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "You segment the market and guess what happens to the older, sicker people? Their premiums will skyrocket because not only do they face the burdens of generally escalating health care costs, but they're in a pool that's much sicker." Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, said, "I think (these plans) are not going to do the job," adding, "For those who need a lot of care, and they are the ones who account for the most health care dollars, the consumer-driven plans are not going to constrain their spending." Paul Fronstin, a director at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, said, "Employers are not just simply asking people to pay more. They're also engaged in designing new benefits to create some savings ... because they don't think consumers can do it on their own" (ElBoghdady, Washington Post, 1/16).