Sunday, May 31, 2009

So Who Opposses Health Care Refrom These Days?

The news has recently contained several stories which note that many prior opponents of health care reform are now "working together" in common purpose to help bring needed change. At the same time, we are now starting to see anti-reform television advertisements that warn against "any form of government-run health care". The most widely available ads come from an organization that is calling itself "Conservatives for Patients' Rights ". If you believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, you might also think that a group of citizens spontaneously got together to educate the the reat of us, but the reality turns out to be far different! Conservatives for Patient's Rights is bankrolled and founded by a guy with a past named Rick Scott, best known for heading a company that paid the the largest health care fraud settlement in US history. Scott was a healthcare executive who grew Columbia Hospital Corp. from two El Paso hospitals in 1988 into the nation's largest investor-owned hospital chain and the world's largest healthcare company.

Columbia later merged with HCA, and Scott was forced out in 1997. Subsequently, a government investigation into HCA resulted in HCA paying $1.7 billion dollars in civil and criminal charges to settle the largest health care fraud settlement in US history, but Scott was not charged individually. He now owns a controlling interest in Discovery Health, and is the Chair of a chain of an urgent care center chain in Florida known as Solantic Corp.

As you watch the adds bankrolled by Scott and his Conservatives for Patient's Rights, you will notice broad statements that really have nothing to say about what is being proposed now for the US. Instead, he strives to create fear of change and rails against the "nanny state" "taking choice out of health care" and other vague notions, while quoting folks from Canada or the UK about problems they perceive in their countries' systems. You would never know to watch these ads that the proposals by the current administration adhere to the 4 pillars of reform that Mr. Scott advocates, which include choice, competition, accountability and responsibility . He forgot to mention equity, effectiveness, affordability and universality, however.

Take care as you watch these ads! Ask who paid for them, where they come from and what the sponsors have to gain by blocking meaningful reform. As President G.W. Bush once tried to say, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!"

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Practical Approach to Health Insurance reform

When it comes to change on a national level, new ideas and needed reform proposals often come from the states. Maybe that will now happen with health care insurance reform.

On May 18, the Whatcom County Medical Society hosted a presentation by Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who accepted our invitation to speak to us about his innovative and practical plan for health insurance reform in Washington State, known as the Guaranteed Health Benefit Plan. As insurance commissioner, Kreidler has developed a wealth of knowledge, that includes experience running a health insurance company when KPS Health Plans were put into receivership. He has clearly put his experience to good use in the design of this plan.

Commissioner Kreidler’s Guaranteed Health Benefit Plan
would provide health care coverage for all Washington residents up to age 65, by virtue of residency in the state for one year, while it also preserves the individual's freedom of choice to pick the plan they want. Keidler described how it would work:
  • All residents get catastrophic coverage for health care costs exceeding $10,000 a year.
  • Limited preventive care is covered, which includes an annual checkup, immunizations and age-appropriate cancer screenings.
  • Funding comes from a payroll tax, shared by the worker and employer.
  • Consumers and employers can choose additional coverage for other care from any insurance plan serving the state, and costs will be much less, since the roulette wheel of catastrophic cost has been removed.
  • All insurance "customer service" – both catastrophic and routine, is provided by the private insurers.
  • For expenses in excess of $10,000, the insurance company pays at their contracted rates, and deals with the state for the payment to them
  • Individuals with no coverage of any kind are at leas covered for some preventive care, and all "catastrphic" care that exceeds $10,0000.
Commissioner Kreidler's approach is refreshing and very interesting. He builds on the structure we have now, while the plan causes minimal disruption to the existing system, extends coverage to all without mandates, and yet still respects choice in the system. It is a way to get moving on this important issue now. As he noted in his talk, all advanced countries have migrated to their own health care systems by building conservatively on the unique features of their pre-existing systems, and it is unlikely that we will have reform as a "big bang" event.

After his talk, Commissioner Kreidler left to fly to Washington, DC for talks with key legislators there. As the health care debate continues, I think that his is a welcome voice for common sense. and a practical choice to help people quickly!

You can get details about the plan by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PM Bellingham Discussion on KGMI

I had a very stimulating conversation about health care and our need for reform on the PM Bellingham radio program, hosted on KGMI radio by Jacqueline Cartier and Ken Mann. They asked great questions, and gave refreshing insight from a younger person's perspective