Taking Charge

Mark McClellan, a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers and White House health policy guru, was armed on Wednesday with new studies and data to turn back criticism from Sen. Ted Kennedy and other Democrats on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee about the president’s plan to expand access to health insurance through refundable tax credits.

The central theme throughout the hearing was the cost of health insurance and whether or not the credits ($1,000 for individuals/$3,000 for families) would help. Democrats and other witnesses offered examples of the high cost of policies, partly drawing on examples from a Kaiser Family Foundation study last June about seven hypothetical people in less than perfect health applying for insurance.

However, McClellan was armed with a new study by the National Association of Health Underwriters, whose 17,000 members sell actual – not hypothetical – insurance, which challenged Kaiser’s conclusions that “the individual insurance market can be a difficult place to buy coverage.”

NAHU found that health insurance was available in every market studied to every applicant except the hypothetical HIV positive man, and he would have been eligible for high-risk pool coverage in all but two states studied for an average of $330 a month.

And the vast majority of the offers were affordable and not restrictive. The exception: states like New York and New Jersey that drive up insurance costs with counter-productive laws that regulate premiums and require insurers to sell policies even if people wait until they are sick to apply.

Vip Patel, founder of E-HealthInsurance, gave more examples of affordable coverage from his survey of 20,000 real policies offered on his website. Average price: $1,900 a year.

One surprise: Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said, “The tax credit’s a good idea” but believes they should be more generous.

It was not a surprise that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) said she can’t understand spending $90 billion (the price of the president’s tax credit plan) on anything but Medicaid expansion. (Thanks to John Desser of the Coalition for Affordable Health Coverage for providing us with the hearing transcript.)

For the full NAHU report: www.nahu.org/NEWS/Kaiser-NAHU_Analysis.PDF

Separately, The Wall Street Journal has run a series of stories this week challenging direct-to-consumer advertising and other tools to inform patients and physicians about prescription drugs.

Despite the Journal stories, study after study has shown that advertising helps people to learn about treatments for their medical problems and to seek care, and in so doing, other medical problems often are detected and treated. And for those already on the medications, compliance is enhanced. While members of the House – both Republicans and Democrats – are threatening to legislatively turn back the clock on the Information Age by restricting this advertising, they are fighting against a tide of citizens that need and want information to better take charge of their own health.

Grace-Marie Turner

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit research organization focusing on ideas to promote free-market health reform. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA, 22320.

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