Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Senator Hillary Clinton announced her proposal for health care reform today. Her website states,
Building on her proposals to rein in costs and to insist on value and quality, her American Health Choices Plan will secure, simplify and ensure choice in health coverage for all Americans. This Plan covers every American - finally addressing the needs of the 47 million uninsured and the tens of millions of workers with coverage who fear they could be one pink slip away from losing their health coverage - with no overall increase in health spending or taxes. For those with health insurance, the plan builds on the current system to give businesses and their employees greater choice of health plans - including keeping the one they have - while lowering cost and improving quality.
Here's the thumbnail: Clinton's plan is of the "individual mandate" variety, in which universal coverage is achieved by mandating that every American purchase health care. In order to ensure that that's both possible and affordable, the Clinton plan creates a few new coverage options, reform the insurance industry, limits coverage costs to a percentage of income, and washes your car.
Okay, it doesn't wash your car. It does open the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program to everybody, ensuring that anyone can access the same menu of regulated private options that federal employees get. FEHBP is the program that already insures millions of current government employees, including the members of Congress, by offering a variety of regulated private options to choose from. Throwing the doors to that program wide open is the most basic and ubiquitous of coverage solutions.
More importantly, the plan also creates a new public insurance option, modeled off, but distinct from, Medicare. That's a big deal: The public insurer offers full coverage and is open to all Americans without restriction. Public insurance is what I feared her plan would avoid, and instead, she embraced it wholeheartedly. The concern with a plan like this (as with the Edwards plan), is that insurers will market coverage to the young and healthy and subtly tilt the public plan's risk pool towards the old and sick (the check is that governmental plans are, for reasons related to administration costs and care incentives, cheaper). At the end of the day, there's not much that can be done about that, unless you want to tax insurers with overly healthy pools, as they do in Germany. Come to think of it, that's exactly what they should do -- it was even in the 1994 bill.
And if you don't go through the newly expanded FEHBP or the public option, preferring to keep your current insurance, you'll still be dealing with a heavily-regulated and reformed insurance industry, which can no longer price discriminate based on preexisting conditions or demographic characteristics, refuse you coverage, or deny renewal of your policy -- including if you change your job. So if you like your current insurance but quit your cubicled existence at MegaCorp, your insurer can't drop you. All this matters because it keeps the private programs from having too much capacity to undercut the risk pools of the other options. It also destroys the elements of the insurance industry's business model that rely too explicitly on screwing you over. . . .
He has some further thoughts here as well. There is more to the plan so continue reading at Senator Clinton's website or Ezra Klein's. Firedoglake also reviews Senator Clinton's plan here - not as positive a review (putting it mildly). The Diane Rehm show has a brief overview of the various candidate proposals for health reform here. Senator Edwards' also has a health care plan and he provides more details on how he plans to ensure that his plan becomes the law - remove coverage from those in Congress.