July 21, 2009

Palm Beach Post Article


FL Consumer Group’s Prescription for Health Reform:We Cannot Afford Inaction

By: Stacey Singer

The Florida Public Interest Research Group is a consumer watchdog based in Tallahassee that traces its roots back to the “Unsafe at Any Speed” days of Ralph Nader, in the 1970s. Today, the biggest consumer issue of all is health care access.

As part of our continuing series of Q & As on health care reform, we’ve asked Florida PIRG for its perspective on the health reform plan contemplated in Washington.

Richard Polangin is Florida PIRG’s health care policy coordinator. As a former legislative analyst and bill drafter, he has 20 years of experience looking at documents like the 1,000-page House health bill. Polangin had this to say about the document:

On Call: What do you see in the House health care draft that’s good for Floridians?

Polangin: Several things:

    • The House bill fosters competition among private plans to drive costs down.
    • It will give people the option to buy into a public plan with an essential benefits package that includes preventive services, mental health services, oral heath and vision for children. It will cap out-of pocket costs.
    • Private plans will no longer be able to deny coverage to persons with health problems.
    • If we like our current plan, we can keep it. If we don’t like what we have, or if we don’t have coverage, we will always have good alternatives to choose from as health insurance companies will be competing more effectively with each other and with a high quality, affordable public plan.
    • People will be able to change jobs and keep their coverage.
    • The bill reduces costs by permitting the federal government to negotiate for drug prices in Medicare.

If we don’t act now, health care costs will only continue to rise. People are struggling to pay health care costs and make ends meets. Now is the time to fix the system so we have quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

On Call: Any red flags in the bill? What are they?

Polangin: The Congressional Budget Office has recently released a report that indicates the House legislation does not significantly reduce the growth of health spending. Reducing the “cost curve” is crucial to ensuring that the legislation does not add to the federal budget deficit and serves to make health care affordable in the future.

It will be important to make sure that this legislation contains significant cost control — have a group of independent health care experts make recommendations that Congress approves, for example, using comparative medical research to educate consumers and providers.

Medicare should be able to use comparative data to decide on the best treatments, and be able to reduce payments to high-cost hospitals and to inefficient physicians. This could reduce unnecessary tests and procedures. Containing costs is essential if we hope to get our economy going again.

On Call: So how can we afford what’s in the bill? Who pays?

Polangin: We can’t afford not to have health care reform now.
Health care premiums are expected to double in the next 8 years which is going to dramatically increase the number of uninsured and eat a much bigger portion of middle class incomes. We have to drive down costs and we have a historic opportunity to do that primarily by creating a public plan that can compete with the private market.
The bill requires everyone to pay, both individuals and businesses. This keeps our employer sponsored health care system in place and makes it the responsibility of everyone to share in the costs.
It’s important to note that the American Medical Association has announced support for this legislation. The AMA has historically opposed significant health care reform proposals and they opposed the creation of Medicare in the 1960’s.
The challenge will be to ensure that the legislation does not add to the federal deficit and to ensure that is slows the persistent increase in health costs.

(On Call: Where do you see battle lines being drawn? Who’s going to fight this?

Polangin: We expect some business lobbies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses to be opposed to the bill’s requirement that employers either provide coverage or pay an assessment.
Health insurance companies are also expected to be opposed because they fear that the public plan will be unfair competition.
We expect individuals who believe in small government and an individual’s right to go without health care coverage to also be opposed to the proposals.

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