Senate has a health care bill

The Senate now has a specific health care reform bill to consider now that the Senate Finance Panel Passes a $829 Billion Health Plan:

The Senate Finance Committee approved an $829 billion plan to overhaul U.S. health care, clearing the way for a full Senate debate over the broadest expansion of the government’s role in the medical system since the creation of Medicare in 1965.

Just one Republican on the panel, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, voted for the measure in an otherwise party-line 14-9 tally. That marked the first time a Republican in either the Democratic-controlled Senate or House has supported the revamp legislation, President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority. . . .

Unlike other versions of the overhaul, the finance bill includes a new tax on the most-expensive insurance plans, doesn’t require employers to provide coverage to workers, and omits a provision creating a new government insurance program, the so-called public option, which most Republicans oppose.

Nonprofit co-operatives would instead provide competition to an insurance industry that stands to gain millions of new customers because the bill requires Americans to obtain insurance. The measure also imposes new restrictions on insurers’ ability to deny people coverage.

If the bill passes the Senate, it would then have to be reconciled with a corresponding House bill coming down the pike. That bill may well contain a public, federal insurance option to compete with the private insurance industry.

Health care reform bill would send insurance rates soaring

Just as the Senate was on the verge of passing a health care reform bill, a study by the insurance industry–which had been backing the project–says that it would greatly increase premiums:

At the heart of the industry’s complaint is a decision by lawmakers to weaken the requirement that millions more Americans get coverage. Since the legislation would ban insurance companies from denying coverage on account of poor health, many people will wait to sign up until they get sick, the industry says. And that will drive up costs for everybody else.

Insurers are now raising possibilities such as higher premiums for people who postpone getting coverage, or waiting periods for those who ignore a proposed government requirement to get insurance and later have a change of heart.

The drama threatened to overshadow Tuesday’s scheduled vote by the Senate Finance Committee on a 10-year, $829-billion plan that Baucus has touted as the sensible solution to America’s problems of high medical costs and too many uninsured.

The Baucus bill is still expected to win Finance Committee approval. The insurance industry is trying to influence what happens beyond the vote, when legislation goes to the floor of the House and Senate, and, if passed, to a conference committee that would reconcile differences in the bills. . . .

The study projects that the legislation would add $1,700 a year to the cost of family coverage in 2013, when most of the major provisions of the Baucus bill would be in effect.

Premiums for a single person would go up by $600 more than would be the case without the legislation, it estimated.

Democrats are accusing the insurance industry of betrayal and are in a state of outrage. But how could forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, forbidding them from turning anyone down, and allowing consumers to wait to get insurance until they get really sick NOT raise premiums?

How about THIS health care reform idea?

Harvard economist Martin Feldstein proposes a different approach to health care reform. Under his plan, the government would just ensure that everyone has catastrophic health care insurance that would kick in when you spend 15% of your income on medical expenses. Below that, you would pay, either for the times you go to the doctor or for an extra insurance policy. This would be much cheaper than the proposed pay-for-everything plan. I’ll let him explain it:

A good system should not try to pay all health-care bills. That would lead to excessive demand, wasteful use of expensive technology and, inevitably, rationing in which health-care decisions are taken away from patients and their physicians. Countries that provide health care to all are forced to deny some treatments and diagnostic tests that most Americans have come to expect.

Here’s a better alternative. Let’s scrap the $220 billion annual health insurance tax subsidy, which is often used to buy the wrong kind of insurance, and use those budget dollars to provide insurance that protects American families from health costs that exceed 15 percent of their income.

Specifically, the government would give each individual or family a voucher that would permit taxpayers to buy a policy from a private insurer that would pay all allowable health costs in excess of 15 percent of the family’s income. A typical American family with income of $50,000 would be eligible for a voucher worth about $3,500, the actuarial cost of a policy that would pay all of that family’s health bills in excess of $7,500 a year.

The family could give this $3,500 voucher to any insurance company or health maintenance organization, including the provider of the individual’s current employer-based insurance plan. Some families would choose the simple option of paying out of pocket for the care up to that 15 percent threshold. Others would want to reduce the maximum potential out-of-pocket cost to less than 15 percent of income and would pay a premium to the insurance company to expand their coverage. Some families might want to use the voucher to pay for membership in a health maintenance organization. Each option would provide a discipline on demand that would help to limit the rise in health-care costs.

My calculations, based on the government’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, indicate that the budget cost of providing these insurance vouchers could be more than fully financed by ending the exclusion of employer health insurance payments from income and payroll taxes. The net budget savings could be used to subsidize critical types of preventive care. And unlike the proposals before Congress, this approach could leave Medicare and Medicaid as they are today.

What would you think of THIS plan?

And let me add another point for discussion: Would you rather just have what we have now for health care, or do we need some kind of reform? And if we have to have a health care reform measure, what kind would you prefer?

Trimming the deficit via health care reform?

The latest health care proposal is touted as saving the government money:

A health-care reform bill drafted by the Senate Finance Committee would expand health coverage to nearly 30 million Americans who currently lack insurance and would meet President Obama’s goal of reducing the federal budget deficit by 2019, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

The bill would cost $829 billion over the next decade, but would more than offset that cost by slicing hundreds of billions from government health programs such as Medicare and by imposing a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance policies starting in 2013.

All told, the package would slice $81 billion from projected budget deficits over the next 10 years, the CBO said, and continue to reduce deficits well into the future.

It would also expand coverage to 94 percent of Americans by 2019, the CBO said, up from the current 83 percent.

I’m curious what they are cutting out of Medicare. If it’s just paying less for services, that will mean even fewer doctors will take Medicare patients than do now. And this is an even bigger tax on the “cadillac plans” that many Americans enjoy and soon won’t have than was announced earlier. And for all of this, the percentage of Americans now having health care insurance will go up only 11%? Still, Congress seems giddy to have come up with a plan that will actually cut the deficit, so this might be what we end up with, though details of the legislation have yet to be spelled out.

The caps on chromosomes

It’s Nobel Prize season, a time to salute good scholarship and, even more, to marvel at the structures built into nature that the winners have discovered. This year’s Nobel prize for medicine goes to three scientists who discovered how chromosomes stay together and keep their integrity even after the cells split. It seems the strands of genetic material have little caps on their ends:

Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco, Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Jack W. Szostak of Harvard Medical School in Boston were awarded the $1.4 million 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It was the first time two women shared the prize. . . .

The scientists won for a series of experiments they conducted in the 1970s and 1980s that showed that the long, intricate molecules known as chromosomes, which carry genes inside every cell, have protective structures on their ends — often likened to the plastic tips on shoelaces — called telomeres, which are replenished with an enzyme dubbed telomerase.

The work “solved a major problem in biology” and has led to groundbreaking insights into the aging process and potentially to new treatments for cancer and many other health problems, the Nobel Assembly said.

“This is a fundamental biological mechanism,” said Rune Toftgard of the Karolinska Institute.

In time and after multitudes of cell divisions, those caps degrade, leading to the degeneration of the cells, as we aging folks are experiencing. Knowing about these caps mean that some of those effects might conceivably be reversed, and knocking off the caps might help us defeat the uncontrolled cell division that is cancer.

But those caps are absolutely necessary for life and reproduction. I suppose an atheist materialist would have to say, “Isn’t it lucky that chromosomes randomly generated those little caps?”

But surely this is an example of irreducible complexity. Those little caps couldn’t have evolved, because to have evolution, you must have reproduction. These are necessary for reproduction, which means they have must have first appeared fully-formed.

Do you have “Cadillac” health insurance?

To help fund the proposed health reform measures, lawmakers are thinking about imposing a stiff tax–up to 35%–on so-called “Cadillac” health insurance plans. Those are defined as individual plans valued at $8,000 per year, or family plans valued at $21,000.

They typically have low deductibles, cover vision, and dental. Such plans are usually just described as “good benefits,” or “I’m really pleased with the health insurance that our company offers.” Such “Cadillac” plans are not just for high-paid executives. They are common in union contracts.

Wouldn’t taxing these good insurance benefits mean that fewer companies would offer them? Wouldn’t this result in people having poorer health care than they currently have? Doesn’t that work against the stated purpose of health care reform? How can taxing excellent plans be justified? Don’t lawmakers understand that the prospect of having worse health care than they did before the reform is what makes people leery about their tampering?