Democratic Health Care Reform Plan Unveiled
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus published his plan for health care reform on Nov. 12, and it bears striking resemblance to President-elect Barack Obama’s plan. The message is the same: universal coverage, hopefully reduce health care costs, and potentially improve quality care.
To achieve universal coverage, Senator Baucus’ plan promotes a shared responsibility between individuals, employers, and the government. Individuals would be responsible to have insurance, mid- to large-sized employers would be required to offer a section 125 plan to employees or contribute to a nationwide insurance pool called the “Health Insurance Exchange,” and the government would continue to offer public programs at federal and state levels.
The new Exchange program, Baucus said, would eventually provide coverage to the 46 million Americans currently without health insurance.
“Those who already have health coverage could keep what they have. But for those who need affordable, guaranteed coverage, the Exchange would be a marketplace where Americans could easily compare and purchase the plans of their choice,” Baucus said.
Until then, the Baucus plan would make health care immediately available to Americans aged 55 to 64 years through a Medicare buy-in, and it would phase out the current two-year waiting period for individuals with disabilities. The plan would also expand Medicaid to cover all impoverished Americans.
Once everyone has coverage, health care costs will go down, reasons Baucus. “Requiring all Americans to have health insurance will help end the shifting costs from the uninsured to the insured,” Baucus said.
Reducing costs also means weeding out waste, eliminating overpayments, and designing a financial system that works for everyone. And like Obama, the Baucus plan would support additional funding for health information technology (IT).
“Health IT is needed for quality reporting and improvement and to give providers ready access to better evidence and other clinical decision-support tools,” Baucus said. Both Baucus and Obama have said they see health IT as a long-term solution for lowering spending.
The Baucus plan would also invest more to detect and eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in public programs, and overpayments to private insurers. Payments and incentives to providers would be made more transparent, “careful” reform of medical malpractice laws would be considered, and tax code reform would be explored.
Improve Quality Care
To cover the uninsured and reduce health care spending, Baucus said “the perverse incentives fostered by current payment systems” must also be addressed. This is where physician participation plays a part in the “shared responsibility.”
To right this alleged wrong, the plan would focus payment incentives on quality and value. “Increasing the supply and availability of primary care practitioners by improving the value placed on their work is a necessary step toward meaningful reform,” Baucus said. He goes on to say, “Fixing the unstable and unsustainable Medicare physician payment formula is a necessary step” in realigning payment incentives for quality care.
The American Medical Association released a statement Nov. 12 applauding Chairman Baucus on his commitment to health care reform.
You can read the Baucus “Call to Action” health reform 2009 plan in its entirety on the Finance Committee Web site. Sens. Obama and Joe Biden’s plan is also available online.