September Capitol Hill Affordability Rally

Perfect Timing

On the very day that Senator Baucus finally released a proposal for consideration by the Senate Finance Committee, community and faith leaders came together in Washington to deliver an important message: getting affordability right is the key to health reform.  Over 100 people from PICO National Network and state-based consumer organizations working with Community Catalyst fanned out across Capitol Hill to talk to Congress about why affordability matters so much.  They shared personal stories about what lack of affordable care has meant to them, their families and their communities and delivered a six point agenda for truly affordable health care.  Together, the groups called for a minimum benefit package similar to what members of Congress get; sliding scale premiums and cost-sharing for low and moderate income households; a cap on out-of-pocket costs that protects people against being under-insured; and an exemption from mandate penalties in cases of financial hardship.

The two organizations also released a statement on affordability co-signed by a number of the nation’s leading consumer and voluntary health organizations including AARP, ACS-CAN, American Heart Association, Consumer’s Union, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lutheran, Families USA and National Urban League.

Affordability has taken center stage in the health care debate as many, both in and out of Congress, expressed concern that the proposal unveiled Wednesday by Senator Baucus would not do enough to make health care affordable for families who lack employer-sponsored insurance.   While concern about middle income families is widespread, a Community Catalyst analysis shows that low-income families could face an unbearable burden under the Baucus plan.  For example: a family of four with an income of twice the federal poverty line could face health care expenses of over 20% of their income.  An individual making only about $14,000 could be expected to pay as much as $2,400 if faced with a major illness.

Hurts So Good

According to Politico, “ insurers… got walloped in the bill – facing taxes, fees and cuts that could amount to almost half of its $856 billion price tag.”  (Politico Pulse 9/17/09) Do they really? Let’s take a closer look: • Insurers have made opposition to the public option their central issue, and the Baucus plan has no public option. • Insurers oppose the 2-1 age rating included in other bills and endorse the 5-1 proposal in the Baucus plan. (Translation: With 2 to 1 age rating, insurers can charge the oldest enrollees up to twice what they charge the youngest enrollees for the same plan; with 5 to 1 age rating, the oldest enrollees would pay up to 5 times what the youngest enrollees pay.) • Insurers support a lower guaranteed benefit level and the Baucus bill complies. • Insurers want a tough individual mandate with few loopholes and significant penalties for noncompliance, and the Baucus bill has the toughest mandate of any of the proposals.

Sure the insurers are unhappy about the new fees. But under the Baucus plan, they would get millions of new customers who will be compelled to buy their product more or less on the terms the industry prefers.  If that’s getting walloped, the insurance industry is probably saying “hit me again.”

Michael Miller, Director of Strategic Policy