Florida Health Insurance Topic:
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HEALTH CARE REFORM?

President Barack Obama praised the health care industry's promise to cut $2 trillion in costs over 10 years, but lawmakers questioned how much it really helps in coming up with a solution for the millions of uninsured.

It's "a watershed event in the long and elusive quest for health care reform," Obama said Monday at the White House with representatives of the insurance industry, doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and a top labor union at his side.

It was a noteworthy sight as leaders of the industry who have killed past attempts at overhauling health care stood behind the president with a proposal to curb their costs.

The proposal, however, was short on specifics. And it appeared to do little to shift positions in Congress as lawmakers attempt to write legislation to implement Obama's goal of extending health care to some 50 million uninsured Americans.

Within moments of Obama's appearance with the industry leaders, lawmakers praised the effort but suggested it didn't go to the heart of the health care debate.


HEALTH INSURANCE OPTIONS

President Obama has pledged to find a middle ground in his drive to reshape the nation's troubled healthcare system.

But even before Congress debates a healthcare bill, the president is getting sucked into a fiercely polarized fight over a centerpiece of his agenda: a new government insurance program that patients could choose instead of private coverage.

The battle over the "public option" has mobilized interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum with millions of dollars in their campaign war chests. Television ads promoting and attacking the insurance provision are already hitting airwaves.

The Obama administration and its allies are now scrambling to contain a full-throated ideological debate that some fear could threaten the most ambitious healthcare campaign in nearly a generation.

"Everybody needs to keep their powder dry," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in an interview. "We have a huge opportunity to accomplish very significant health reform. . . . Let's not have any sparks that could light a fire."


CEOS RICH - KIDS POOR

Katie Hebert, age 4, is a very sick little girl. She gets severe seizure-like attacks that can last 11 hours from an undiagnosed neuro-developmental disorder. She is deaf in one ear, has a feeding disorder and requires daily medication for asthma. In her short life, she has been rushed to the emergency room six times and hospitalized twice. Her health was put at even greater risk when she lost her health coverage -- which meant no more regular doctor's visits, weekly therapy or attention from specialists.

To deal with this crisis, Katie's father tried to buy private insurance, but he couldn't afford the roughly $1,000 a month, about 30 percent of his salary, to pay for the insurance plan offered by his employer. And even if he could have afforded the insurance, it would not have covered all of Katie's health needs. On top of that, other private insurers would not accept Katie in their programs because of her pre-existing conditions.

The only alternative was the Texas Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But her father made $260 a month above the limit that would enable Katie and her older brother, Nathan, 7, to qualify for CHIP. Mr. Hebert is a reliable worker who has helped maintain the computers for a banking system in Pasadena, Texas, over the last six years. He requested a voluntary pay cut in an already modest income so his children could get insurance, but his employer didn't respond.

The family eventually spent down its income by paying for unnecessary child care to become financially eligible for CHIP. That wasn't the end of it, however. When Katie's father got an automatic three percent cost of living raise in December, the family's income once again exceeded the CHIP limit, this time by $20.54 a month. During the period that her father went through the process of having his wages lowered, Katie was without health coverage -- again.

Katie is one of millions of children in working families who face impossible barriers to obtaining health coverage imposed by insurance companies that make enormous profits and pay their CEOs and top managers fat compensation packages. They have the power to decide who gets coverage, what medical treatment they'll pay for, and they set the prices for coverage. The premiums these companies charge and the restrictions they impose are major reasons why 46 million Americans are without health insurance today -- including nine million children.


GROUP HEALTH INSURANCE NEWS

Several big health-care interest groups say they’re going to slow the rise in health costs over the next decade. Here are stories from this morning’s WSJ, Washington Post and New York Times.

Later today, several big players — including the American Medical Association, the Service Employees International Union, and the main trade groups from the drug, hospital, medical-device and health-insurance industries — are expected to meet with President Obama and pledge to slow the growth of health-care costs by 1.5 percentage points per year in each of the next 10 years.

The specifics seem pretty thin. The pledge includes perennial cost-control favorites such as “simplifying administrative costs, making hospitals more efficient, reducing hospitalizations, managing chronic illnesses more effectively and improving health-care information technology,” the WSJ says. All stuff that everybody agrees sounds good, but has been hard to put into practice.

What’s more, even if the health establishment slows the growth as promised, the cost of health care will continue to grow faster than the economy as a whole, rising to 18% of GDP by 2019, the WSJ says. (Health spending was 16.6% of GDP last year.)

Still, the fact that such a wide range of players with often conflicting interests (doctors and health insurers, for example) are speaking as a single group is pretty significant. It shows they all want to look like they’re on board with health reform, a top priority this year in Washington. That’s a big change from the last major health-reform push, in the early 1990s, which failed in part due to fierce industry opposition.

But keeping that broad-based support will become more difficult in the coming weeks and months, as the details of health-reform legislation emerge from Congress. Later today, in fact, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to release several possible options for a public insurance program that would compete with private insurers. That’s one of the most contentious elements of the health-reform plans, and one the insurance industry vigorously opposes

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