Employer Health Costs Threaten Profits

–via Forbes

Oxford Analytica 08.18.06

Rising health costs are straining the finances of U.S. workers and firms, and dramatic increases in premiums are changing the dynamics of the labor market.

U.S. employers provide health insurance for about two-thirds of the non-elderly population, and over 90% of the privately insured have employer-sponsored insurance (ESI). Health benefits now represent more than 7% of payroll costs for firms, which contribute most of the cost of the premiums–an average of 85% for individual coverage and 75% for family coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey. These premiums have outpaced inflation and wages since the late 1980s. Since 2000, the annual rises in wages and inflation have both hovered around 4%, while ESI premiums have grown at double or triple this rate.

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Study Says Individual Insurance Too Costly

–via Los Angeles Times (Registration required.)

Eighty-nine percent of health-coverage shoppers can’t afford policies or are rejected.

By Lisa Girion, Times Staff Writer

September 14, 2006

Individual health insurance — often touted as an alternative to employer-based group coverage — may be an option for the healthiest and wealthiest. But a study due out today suggests that the poor and sick need not apply.

The overwhelming majority — 89% — of working-age adults who shopped for health coverage in the individual market over the last three years were rejected for health reasons or found it too expensive, according to the study by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that sponsors independent research on health and social issues.

Coverage was not affordable for 58% of the applicants, and 21% who had a medical condition were turned down, charged a higher premium or sold a policy that excluded the existing problem from coverage, the report said.

Individual insurance also is less affordable than employer-sponsored coverage, the study found. Two out of five people with individual coverage spent 5% or more of their income on premiums, compared with one out of seven people with employer coverage.

The study is the latest assessment of individual insurance, which is seen as an increasingly important form of coverage as employers drop health benefits for workers and their families because of the cost.

Most of the increase in the number of uninsured Americans — who now total, by some estimates, 46.6 million — was because of a decline in workplace coverage, said study author Sara Collins, an executive at the New York-based foundation.

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Kuehl’s Healthcare Bill, SB 840, Passes California Assembly

–via PNHP


On Monday, August 28th, Senate Bill 840, authored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-23), passed out of the California State Assembly on a preliminary vote of 43-30 (final vote expected to be 44-31).

SB 840 provides a concrete plan for covering every California resident with comprehensive health insurance, saves the state of California, businesses and working families nearly $8 billion in the first year, and guarantees our right to choose our own doctor. The bill will now return to the State Senate for concurrence and is expected to reach the Governor’s desk by September 1st.

SB 840 provides comprehensive medical, dental, vision, hospitalization and prescription drug coverage to every California resident. This broad coverage is made possible through a streamlined claims and reimbursement system that is projected to save billions of dollars in administrative costs. SB 840 allows California to use its purchasing power to negotiate bulk rates for prescription drugs and durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, thus realizing an additional $2 billion in savings, SB 840 preserves the status of healthcare providers, hospitals and pharmacies as private, competitive businesses.

The plan is funded by drawing in current public spending and replacing all premiums, co-pays and deductibles paid to insurance companies with premiums paid to the system. As amended, the bill creates a blue ribbon panel of health, finance and technical experts to lay out the mechanics for an affordable premium structure using information gathered in available funding studies.

“The growing cost of health insurance is bankrupting our businesses and working families. Our health care system is being decimated to pay for insurance company waste”, says State Senator Kuehl. “SB 840 is the right solution for California’s broken health care system. It covers everyone, it contains costs and it improves quality – most important, it guarantees your right to choose your own doctor.”

“This plan provides security and savings to every California family, helps businesses by reducing their health insurance costs, and saves the state almost a billion dollars”, said Speaker Fabian Nunez. “The Governor should sign this historic bill.”

“Right now we have a broken system that leaves too many Californians in medical or financial jeopardy and a system that hinders economic growth”, said President Pro Tem Senator Don Perata. “SB 840 is responsible, it’s achievable and it’s what we need to do to fix the health care system in California.”

(Comment by Don McCanne: SB 840 has already been passed by the California State Senate. It will return there for concurrence in an amendment calling for a commission to establish the mechanics of a premium structure, and then will move on to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk.)

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Medicare Ads Paid by Drug Industry

–via The Guardian

Friday August 25, 2006


AP Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON (AP) – The pharmaceutical industry quietly footed the bill for at least part of a recent multimillion-dollar ad campaign praising lawmakers who support the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, according to political officials.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims credit for the ads, although a spokesman refused repeatedly to say whether it had received any funds from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Several campaign strategists not involved in the ad campaign said no legal issues were raised by the pharmaceutical industry’s involvement. In political terms, though, the disclosure is likely to embolden Democratic critics of the Medicare drug program, who charge it amounts to a Republican-engineered windfall for drug companies.

The commercials, airing in 10 states or congressional districts, generally say the local congressman or senator supports the drug program, and that hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries have saved money since its inception earlier this year.

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Two Connecticut Democratic Candidates: Both Favor Universal Health Care

–via the New Haven Independent

Malloy, DeStefano Battle Over Universal Health Care

by Melinda Tuhus

August 7, 2006

They both want it. The question: How to pay for it? As the “other” Democratic primary race in Connecticut heads to the finish line Aug. 8 – the one that’s not Lieberman v. Lamont, but Dan Malloy v. John DeStefano for the Democratic nomination for governor – the focus on the candidates’ dueling plans for universal health coverage has moved front and center.

Malloy’s camp aired a commercial in early August showing DeStefano’s head on the body of a pregnant woman and a mother holding a baby to challenge his commitment to women’s health issues. (While some called the ad clever, it may have backfired, as many women protested that it was in poor taste, and it can’t be found on Malloy’s own website.) Then, over the weekend, some supporters from each camp picketed the other candidate’s headquarters over the issue.

The Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut is happy with both plans, says foundation president Juan Figueroa, knowing that whoever wins the primary will carry the issue forward to the general election and to Gov. Jodi Rell. Rell so far has not said much at all about what both Democrats call Connecticut’s health care crisis, and who has not yet presented her own plan.

The foundation’s position is that any viable plan for universal health care must be affordable, portable, provide access for all, and be economically sustainable by society. Figueroa says both plans meet these criteria, at least potentially (because they are concepts, not plans that have been operationalized). “The difference is in how they are financed,” says Figueroa.

But as the race tightens to practically a dead heat and heads down to the wire, both campaigns are drawing all kinds of distinctions between their plans. Below are summaries of each plan, and critiques by each side of the other’s plan. (Full descriptions can be found here and here.)

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San Francisco’s Universal Health Care Program Becomes Law

— via KCBS

Monday, 07 August 2006

San Francisco, Calif. (KCBS) — San Francisco’s mayor today signed into law the city’s Universal Health Access plan, but it is a long way from being fully implemented.

KCBS reporter Barbara Taylor at the City Hall Bureau explains the plan is complex with pricing and coverage details still to be worked out. But the idea is to offer some sort of comprehensive health care to the city’s uninsured at a low cost.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, in signing the legislation, said it could take up to three years to get the plan working. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s an exciting time. We’ve obviously, I think, changed the dialog in the state,” he said.

Nothing could cap the enthusiasm of Supervisor Tom Ammiano. “The Italians have a word “stupendo,” and this is stupendous,” he said.

The proposal is to begin offering health coverage in one year to about 15,000 participants. Others will be added as money and space become available.

Participants will pay up to $200 a month, depending on their income, plus undetermined co-payments for doctor visits and prescriptions.

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Crucial Day in Sacramento: Assembly Votes on Universal Health Care

— via the California Progress Report

By Frank Russo

Senate Bill 840 by Senator Sheila Kuehl, a historic universal health care, single payer system proposal, will be voted on by the Assembly. A last minute press conference by Fabian Nunez, the Speaker of the Assembly and Senate President pro Tem Don Perata along with Senator Kuehl and others is scheduled for 10 a.m. to give it an extra push. It would cover all California residents for a comprehensive range of medical costs, including dental care, prescriptions, mental health care and hospitalization and give patients the right to choose their own doctor.

It has the support of over 475 organizations as well as 15 cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. It has drawn heavy opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce and other powerful interests in the state. It should pass the Assembly on what may be a narrow vote and have clearer sailing in the State Senate where it was approved 25 to 15 in May. If it is any indication of what is to come, the Assembly defeated by a 46 to 28 vote margin an attempt by Republican Assemblymember Aghazarian to put hostile amendments into the bill on Thursday.

Senator Kuehl and others are already looking ahead to what may be the biggest obstacle of all—getting Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the bill. There is a rally scheduled for Wednesday in the Capitol to tell the Governor to “do the right thing” and sign this bill into law. Most observers expect a veto. If it does become law, it would California would be a leader in the nation for what may become a single payer plan for the nation, cutting out much of the 25% or more that is taken by insurance carriers and the expensive paperwork that medical providers must process.

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