Analysis of national healthcare news
Premiums rising nationwide
Health insurance premiums are going up nationwide, with insurance corporations requesting to raise people’s premiums by hundreds of dollars a month in some areas. While federal law requires states to have “effective rate review programs,” there are virtually no requirements for transparency or public participation in this process, and states are left to decide what constitutes a reasonable rate increase. As a result, regulation varies greatly from one state to the next, as do insurance rates: a study by Citizen Action Wisconsin found that in states with more regulatory power, premiums are an average of $750 lower per person per year.
Insurance and hospital industry mergers continue
Insurance industry and hospital industry mergers continue to make healthcare coverage increasingly unaffordable as corporations in both industries seek to consolidate their market power at the expense of patients and the common good. Two major insurance companies, Cigna and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, are currently pushing to merge into the largest health insurance corporation in the country, pouring millions of dollars into lobbying efforts and engaging in highly suspicious corporate meddling to tip the review process in their favor. Such mergers enable insurance corporations to drive up premiums and limit people’s access to care by imposing sky-high out-of-pocket costs and narrowing provider networks. At the same time, uneven and inadequate regulation of hospital mergers leaves many communities vulnerable to losing needed care when local facilities close or consolidate. Consumers Union offers a number of resources for opposing insurance mergers, and The MergerWatch Project offers a report on how hospital mergers affect communities, model legislation and state report cards grading states on how well their regulatory systems protect access to care and incorporate transparency and participation.
Wealthier people now consume more healthcare than poor people
A new study shows that the wealthiest fifth of Americans now consume 43% more healthcare than the poorest fifth, despite having fewer health problems. The study points to soaring premiums, deductibles and co-pays as key factors. While the wealthy can afford to pay these fees out of pocket, poor and middle-income people are increasingly forced to choose between going to the doctor and paying for rent or other essentials.
DNC votes down support for universal healthcare, proposes a public option
The Democratic National Committee voted down a proposed amendment to add universal, publicly financed healthcare as an official policy goal on its platform. Instead, the Committee stated that “Americans should be able to access public coverage through Medicare or a public option.” The policy details in the platform and in Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan are sketchy, however, and National Nurses United, Healthcare NOW! and many others have criticized the turn away from universal, publicly financed healthcare, emphasizing that a unified public system is the only way to guarantee that healthcare is provided for everyone and treated as a right, not a privilege.
Vermont passes new legislation, sees major court cases
Vermont recently passed two healthcare bills—one promoting drug price transparency and one allowing dental therapists to operate—that have drawn national attention as model legislation. Meanwhile Governor Peter Shumlin will be stepping down from office, opening up a competitive race to replace him. Democratic candidate Matt Dunne has made publicly financed, universal healthcare a key part of his platform, while Democratic candidate Sue Minter and Republican candidate Phil Scott oppose reform. Vermont is also studying two possible options to expand healthcare access: the State published a report studying universal primary care in January, and this coming January will publish a report studying expanding the public Dr. Dynasaur program, which currently provides public health insurance to low-income young people, to include most Vermont residents up to 26 years old. And as Vermont’s current rate review process moves forward, the insurance company MVP Healthcare is suing the State of Vermont over last year’s rate review, challenging the State’s authority to regulate premiums. VWC issued a statement condemning the MVP lawsuit. Meanwhile the U.S. Supreme Court handed insurers a victory by ruling that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) protects self-funded insurance companies from having to share information about claims and member eligibility with the state of Vermont. The ruling may also affect 17 other states, which, like Vermont, maintain all-payer databases that help the state lower costs and improve effectiveness of healthcare, though the Court’s decision did indicate that the Secretary of Labor may be able to require insurers to report the data that Vermont needs.
Corporate spending to oppose universal healthcare in Colorado
We reported in February on the well-financed opposition campaign to Colorado’s ballot measure to create a universal, publicly financed healthcare system in the state, which Coloradans will vote on in November. Now the ColoradoCareYES campaign, which is backing the measure, reports that “the opposition group ‘Coloradans for Coloradans’ raised 99.94% of its funds from corporations in the most recent reporting period, with 84% of its funds coming from out-of-state interests. ColoradoCareYES, on the other hand, has relied almost entirely on individuals, with 99.69% of its contributions this year coming from individuals and 92% of the funds raised coming from Colorado.” ColoradoCareYES’s website features a list of major corporate donations to the anti-healthcare campaign, including $1.95 million from insurance giants Anthem, Kaiser Permanente and United Healthcare. Full campaign donation listings are available on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.