Health Plans Propose Guaranteed Coverage for Pre-Existing Conditions and Individual Coverage Mandate

AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans)
November 19, 2008

Summary of AHIP’s Proposal to Guarantee Coverage for Pre-existing Conditions and Promote Affordability in the Individual Insurance Market:

  • Guarantee-issue coverage with no pre-existing condition exclusions;
  • Establish an individual coverage requirement with an insurance coverage verification system, an automatic enrollment process and effective enforcement of the requirement that all individuals purchase and maintain coverage;
  • Promote affordability by: providing refundable, advanceable tax credits for moderate-income individuals and working families; and promoting tax equity whether coverage is obtained through an employer or the individual market; and
  • Ensure premium stability for those with existing coverage through a broadly funded reimbursement mechanism that spreads costs for the highest-risk individuals.

http://www.ahip.org/content/pressrelease.aspx?docid=25068

And…

BCBSA Announces Support for Individual Mandate Coupled with a Requirement for Insurers to Offer Coverage to All

BlueCross BlueShield Association (BCBSA)
November 19, 2008

To assure truly meaningful reform, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) and the 39 member Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies today announced support for every individual being required to have coverage and all insurers being required to accept everyone regardless of their health status.

http://www.bcbs.com/news/bcbsa/bcbsa-announces-support-for.html

If anyone has any remaining doubt that comprehensive reform is close at hand, just look at the response of the private insurance industry. AHIP, representing 1,300 insurance companies, and BlueCross BlueShield Association, insuring over 100 million individuals, in simultaneous press releases have confirmed that they understand that, if they want to continue to insure the majority of Americans, they must abandon their current business model and come to the table with policies that work. Policies that work means that everyone must be included, and that risk must be distributed in an equitable manner, based on ability to pay.

So what is their current business model that no longer works? They have been successful in limiting their exposure to the very large numbers of us who are relatively healthful: the healthy workforce, their young healthy families, and the healthy sector of the individual insurance market. But health care costs are now so high that the premiums that must be charged for these healthy risk pools are no longer affordable for the majority of us.

The industry’s response was to reduce benefits thereby reducing the upward pressure on premiums, but that has resulted in the rapidly growing epidemic of underinsurance. As a result, health care is now often unaffordable even for those who do have insurance. Also, in response to high premiums and mediocre coverage the numbers of uninsured continue to rise.

The private insurance industry has been trying to ride this out, but no more. Their hand is being forced by the political tidal wave that is sweeping over our health care system with the demand for reform that works for all of us.

They understand that in a truly universal system they must guarantee coverage for everyone regardless of preexisting conditions. Since that would push premiums up, they know that they must add larger numbers of healthy individuals to dilute the risk in their pools. An obvious source is the large numbers of young, healthy individuals who are uninsured. But the only way those individuals would pay the high premiums would be by forcing them to participate. Thus an individual mandate must be coupled with guaranteed issue.

The industry pretends that an individual mandate with guaranteed issue is all that they need to be major players, but they are reticent on revealing the most crucial barrier that they face. Although premiums for private plans are already too high for average-income individuals to afford, they must reverse the innovations that have led to underinsurance. Obviously that will significantly increase premiums. Also, since they currently sell to mostly healthy individuals, adding those with preexisting disorders will result in even higher premiums.

What to do, what to do? The AHIP release gives us a couple of hints.

Those supporting universal coverage through private health plans have long conceded that tax credits (or vouchers) must be used to assist low-income individuals with the purchase of their plans. In their press release, AHIP now states that we must use “refundable, advanceable tax credits for moderate-income individuals and working families.” Finally, the industry explicitly concedes that most of us can no longer afford to purchase their health plans. So who is going to help? The taxpayers. Gee, isn’t that us?

The other problem is how are they going to pay for the high-risk individuals who now must be covered? Their solution is somewhat more cryptic. They are going to “ensure premium stability for those with existing coverage through a broadly funded reimbursement mechanism that spreads costs for the highest-risk individuals.” “Premium stability” means that other sources will be paying the higher costs of the higher-risk individuals. What other sources? They propose “Guarantee Access Plans” which are “loosely modeled on state high-risk pools.” Oops. The taxpayers – us – again.

Think about it. The private insurance industry has just the solution for us, but only if we agree to foot the bill for those who actually need health care, while they continue to collect large premiums to pay for their egregiously wasteful administrative excesses.

Their proposal is to shift the real costs of health care to the taxpayer. They are right. We need to establish a universal risk pool and fund it equitably based on ability to pay. The only sensible way to do that is through a single payer national health program. Why would we want to implant on our health care financing system the cancer of private health plans?