SHRM Co-Sponsored Summit Focuses on Health Care

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 30, 2009
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Health care reform will work, and President Barack Obama expects to sign a health care reform bill by the end of 2009, Nancy-Ann DeParle, counselor to President Obama and director of the White House Office of Health Reform, told attendees of a three-hour summit, “Health Care Reform: Will It Work?,” that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and The New Republic co-sponsored Oct. 26, 2009.

“First I think we should all take a step back and remember how far we’ve already come,” DeParle said during a keynote address.

Her talk followed two panel discussions that included such threads as public health care options, accountability, other countries’ models, reforming the delivery of health care, and the United States’ under-consumption and overspending on health care.

“When President Obama began the drive for health reform in March [2009], not even eight months ago, a lot of people wouldn’t have bet that we’d get this far,” she said. Naysayers, she noted, pointed to other presidents who had tried to achieve health care reform and failed.

“But today we’re closer than we’ve ever been to finally reforming our health care system,” she said, adding that bills have moved through committees in the House and Senate.

“It will help families, businesses and government. It won’t add a dime to the deficit in the short run, and over the longer term we believe it will bring down the unsustainable growth and the cost of health care.”

She touched on seven things she said are likely to be in the health insurance reform legislation Congress puts forward:

Positive impact on small business. On average, businesses with fewer than 100 workers currently pay 18 percent more for the same health insurance than large businesses because they have less bargaining power, according to DeParle.

Under the White House’s plan, she estimated, 95 percent of small businesses would be exempt from any new requirement to cover their workers or to chip in to help cover the costs. Small businesses will be able, if they choose, to find affordable choices in an insurance exchange to increase purchasing power. Tax credits would be available to small businesses to make health insurance more affordable, she said.

Provide accessibility to health insurance for young adults. One in three young adults who don’t have health insurance are one illness away from bankruptcy, she said, and more than half under age 30 went without health insurance over the past decade. In addition to tax credits to help young adults purchase insurance, one provision would allow young people to stay on their parents’ health policies until age 26.

Another idea, she said, is to create a “Young Invincibles” plan that would “give young people a chance to buy low-cost insurance to protect themselves from financial ruin if they get seriously ill.”

Make the insurance industry transparent and accountable. This “would let consumers know how insurance companies are spending their money—how much goes to administrative costs and how much goes to pay for medical care,” she said. It “will help consumers hold insurance companies accountable for what they do with their premium dollars.” The House bill would require insurance companies to provide premium rebates if administrative overhead is too high.

Reform will lower health insurance costs. She cited increased choice and competition in the new health insurance exchange, premium subsidies for young adults, premium support through tax credits, and delivery system reform as factors contributing to substantial savings.

Reform health care delivery system. It would promote integrated payment systems—bundled payments for treating overall medical problems rather than paying separately for each treatment—to encourage comprehensive care and efficiency. The White House plan would establish pilot programs for interdisciplinary teams of health professionals to coordinate care where a central provider knows which physician or practitioner a patient is seeing and which prescriptions have been prescribed. It would provide financial incentives to encourage hospitals to support patients if they transition to nursing homes or back to their homes as a way to cut down on unnecessary readmissions.

Require the insurance process to be streamlined and standardized, with the intent of lessening the complicated, time-consuming, duplicative forms physicians must complete. In addition, it would speed up reimbursements “and free up doctors and nurses to devote more time to their patients and their health.”

Allow consumers to know what’s in their plans. “It’s nearly impossible in today’s complicated insurance market to compare plans and choose one that’s right for you.” Web portals would provide consumers with easy access to easier-to-understand information, including information on quality, standard definitions and health care scenarios.

“The American people know reform can’t wait. They know inaction is not an option,” DeParle said. “We’re going to have to get it done this year.”

Two days after DeParle spoke, House Democrats unveiled a health care reform bill that included a government insurance option and a historic expansion of Medicaid; a version of the “public option” some moderates prefer, and Medicaid eligibility levels raised to 150 percent of the federal poverty level for all adults, a steeper increase than in earlier drafts, according to news reports.

Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at The New Republic, moderated a panel looking at “What’s Affordable Coverage—and How to Make Sure People Get It?”Panel members were:

  • Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.
  • Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.
  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
  • Dennis Rivera, chair, SEIU Healthcare.

Harold Pollack, professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, moderated the panel “Beyond Coverage—How Do We Reform the Health Care System to Promote Quality and Efficiency?” Panel members were:

  • Shannon Brownlee, senior research fellow, New America Foundation.
  • George Halvorson, chairman and CEO, Kaiser Permanente.
  • Jon Kingsdale, executive director, Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.

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