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Insurers pitch plan to cover all uninsured kids

Health insurance companies proposed a $300 billion plan Monday aimed at getting coverage for all uninsured children in three years and for most adults within 10.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Health insurance companies proposed a $300 billion plan Monday aimed at getting coverage for all uninsured children in three years and for most adults within 10.

The plan includes tax breaks for the working poor and increased spending by the government for Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“This bold program would expand coverage to tens of millions within a framework that is fiscally sound and promotes individual responsibility,” said J. Grover Thomas Jr., board chairman of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The largest of the tax breaks would go for universal health accounts. Individuals could set aside up to $2,000 a year and families up to $4,000 and use the money to pay for any type of health insurance, not just plans that require patients to pay significant up front costs.

The insurers also called for giving low-income families a tax credit worth up to $500 when they secure health insurance for their children.

They said their proposal would go a long way toward providing basic coverage to more than 40 million uninsured, the group said.

The trade group made no recommendations as to how the government should pay the bill of $300 billion over 10 years, but it noted that expanding coverage to the uninsured would bring significant savings to the insured. That’s because the insured subsidize much of the health care provided to the uninsured in the form of higher monthly premiums.

Americans spend about $2 trillion a year on health care, and about $600 billion of that money comes from the federal government.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Monday morning that he had not yet seen the insurers’ proposal, but he did sense that there were opportunities to expand insurance coverage next year that lawmakers from both parties could back.

Lawmakers from both parties have said reauthorizing the children’s health program next year would be a priority, and many have expressed hope that the program would be expanded.

The American Medical Association, which represents physicians, said it welcomed the plan.

“Clearly, current programs to cover the uninsured are insufficient and more must be done,” said Dr. Ardis D. Hoven, an AMA board member.

“The fact that even the health insurance industry is talking reform shows a growing consensus that reform is really needed,” said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who is expected next year to oversee the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “We showed in Massachusetts that bipartisan progress on health care is possible, and we should do the same here in Washington.”

The expansion of Medicaid, a state-federal partnership, to all people at 100 percent of poverty would help about 12 million people become insured. The universal health accounts would help about 25 million people afford insurance, the insurance group said.

The early focus would be on children. The trade group calls for letting families at 300 percent of poverty or below participate in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. That expansion would help about 5 million people get insurance. The child tax credit would help about 3 million get coverage.

The goal is to get all uninsured children coverage within three years, and 95 percent of uninsured adults would get coverage within 10 years. Insurers would contribute through efforts to rein in administrative costs, the group said.