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August 30, 2007

Number of Americans without health insurance climbs

The number of Americans without health insurance rose last year from 44.8 million, or 15.3% of the population, to 47 million, or 15.8%, the Census Bureau reported today.

In a report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage, the bureau also said that the median household income -- the income level of Americans at dead center of the U.S. economy -- rose seven-tenths of one point to $48,201 last year, mainly because more people were working full time.

Analysts said the figures showed that the nation was still a long way from making it back to where it was before the last recession in 2001, and helped explain why working Americans were more pessimistic than the overall economic numbers might suggest they should be.

"The only people who have recovered their position from the previous expansion are those near the top of the income distribution. The rest of Americans are still waiting to recover the ground they lost," said Gary Burtless, a senior economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Median household income peaked in 1999 at $49,244, then fell for five years before climbing back in 2005 and last year. But the improvement was not the product of higher earnings but more work. Real median earnings of men and women who worked full time declined in 2006. For men, the decline was 1.1%, to $42,300; for women it was 1.2%, to $32,500.

The nation's official poverty rate experienced its first significant decline of this decade, from 12.6% in 2005 to 12.3% last year.

Most of the problem with health insurance were traceable to the continued erosion of employer-based healthcare coverage. The percentage of people covered by employer plans decreased to 59.7% of the population in 2006, down from 60.2% in 2005.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2007

One-fifth of Californians lack health insurance, report says

A record number of Californians - an estimated 6.7 million adults and children that account for nearly one in five of the state's residents - went without health care insurance last year, according to new figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nationwide, about 47 million Americans lack health coverage, including 8.7 million children - also record numbers, the report said.

The estimates are part of an annual analysis of poverty and health care in the United States, which also showed that median household income nationwide rose seven-tenths of one point in 2006 to $48,201 - still below the peak of $49,244 reached in 1999.

Many public policy experts and elected officials were especially concerned about the health care data, especially for children because the number of uninsured kids grew for the second year in a row.

"The trend I've been seeing is the growing number of children in middle class families who lack coverage," said Jim Keddy, director of PICO California, part of a national coalition of faith-based community groups that advocates for the poor.

"As health care costs go up, more and more families are either not being offered health insurance through work or what they are offered costs too much."

The new Census estimates show that about 816,000 children in California lack health care - which means that most of them receive medical services at hospital emergency rooms and community clinics.

After months of talking about the issue, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders are increasingly focused on ideas for extending coverage to more Californians who lack insurance.

The governor has proposed a plan aimed at covering all Californians without health insurance by having workers, employers and care providers share the cost of expanded coverage. He would also mandate that residents have insurance.

Democratic leaders have proposed a plan that would cover only working families that now lack coverage, with the lion's share of the costs being paid by employers.

Another plan pending before the Legislature would create a single-payer program where all residents are covered under a plan managed by the state and funded through taxes.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2007

Insurance group reaches out to underserved areas

A major insurance group said it will distribute $25 million in grant money to improve health care in medically underserved areas of California such as the San Joaquin Valley.

Health clinics, hospitals and community organizations can apply to UnitedHealth Group and its subsidiary PacifiCare for grants ranging from $100,000 to $5 million. The program grew out of regulatory approvals for UnitedHealth Group's acquisition of PacifiCare in 2005. The $8.1 billion acquisition created a larger health insurance group serving about 70 million people nationwide.

Grants will be awarded over the next three years for technology improvements, medical education, efforts to prevent chronic disease, telemedicine and coordinated care initiatives. Last year, UnitedHealth awarded a $5 million grant for developing a medical school at the University of California at Merced.

"We would encourage organizations in Stanislaus and neighboring counties to apply for these funds," said Tyler Mason, a spokesman for UnitedHealthcare, a division of UnitedHealth Group. "These dollars are available to improve access to health care by using technology and education."

The program has given money to telemedicine projects for improving prenatal care in rural areas, Mason said. Another area of interest is coordination of care for patients who are discharged from hospitals to skilled nursing facilities. Often, the nursing facility isn't close to the hospital and patients don't receive the follow-up care they need, Mason said.

The UnitedHealth Group grants also are intended to address physician shortages predicted in a 2005 University of California study. That study said the southern part of the Central Valley is prone to shortages of health care workers.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 08:12 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2007

Health Insurers Target the Individual Market

Health insurers are targeting the two groups of people least likely to be covered by insurance at work -- young people in their 20s and 30s, and early retirees who don't yet qualify for Medicare.

Companies including Aetna Inc. and WellPoint Inc. have recently begun offering individual health-insurance packages tailored for young adults, the fastest-growing population of uninsured Americans. Besides basic medical coverage, the packages also often include such benefits as teeth whitening and gym-membership discounts, because insurers say many young people are especially concerned about looking good. But to keep the policies affordable -- Humana Inc. packages start at $26 a month, for example -- the plans usually have high deductibles of as much as thousands of dollars a year and strip out some coverage that could be important, such as maternity care and brand-name prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, Humana also recently began marketing policies for the second-fastest-growing group of the uninsured, early retirees -- ages 50 to 64 -- who because of buyouts and company cutbacks in retirement benefits are increasingly caught in the gap between stopping work and Medicare eligibility. Aetna, WellPoint and other companies say they also plan to roll out packages for older adults in coming months.

Eric Wolfson, a 32-year-old independent filmmaker in Los Angeles, says his mother bought him a policy from Blue Cross of California, a WellPoint subsidiary, because she was worried about his not having health insurance. Because of the high deductible, however, he recently had to pay $1,700 out of his own pocket to cover hospital emergency-room costs after separating his shoulder during a martial-arts workout. Still, Mr. Wolfson says he likes having the insurance policy in case anything catastrophic happens. "It's protection for the big stuff," he says.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2007

Kaiser Permanente HMO CEO backs Calif health reform

The chief executive of the biggest health maintenance organization in the United States said on Thursday he backs key elements of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to extend health-care coverage to millions of uninsured individuals.

Schwarzenegger's $12 billion pitch to provide health insurance in the estimated 6.5 million without insurance in the most populous U.S. state would seek higher taxes from doctors and hospitals and asks health plans to limit profits.

The Republican governor's plan is not seen passing this year because of a limited time schedule will make it difficult to pass a budget as well as resistance from state lawmakers, but it has a chance of re-emerging when the Legislature returns in January.

"I think it's attainable and achievable," George Halvorson, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, the biggest HMO in the U.S., with more than 8 million customers, said in an interview. "I'd like to see universal coverage passed in California, and I'd like to see it be a model (for national reform)."

The California plan follows a spate of efforts by states to cover the rising numbers of individuals in the U.S. lacking health insurance, now estimated at 45 million people, or 15 percent of the population.

Halvorson said he backs Schwarzenegger's proposal to require that individuals have insurance, and to mandate that employers offer it, or pay into a fund. He also said he supports a requirement that health plans not reject coverage based on preexisting medical conditions.

For health plans, a controversial element of Schwarzenegger's plan is a proposal that would require health plans to spend at least 85 cents of every dollars in premiums on medical care, according to Wall Street analysts.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2007

The key to health care affordability - everybody pays

Imagine if people were able to game the Social Security system, never paying in a single dime, but able to jump in right before retirement and pick up checks. That would be unfair. The costs for those Americans who responsibly pay their fair share would increase because they would be subsidizing those who don't. Eventually, the system would collapse.

Fortunately, the system protects all of us by requiring nearly everyone to participate in Social Security. As a result, every American has a secure pension for their retirement, regardless of how much they earned in their career.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed the same model for a state health-care system. His plan obligates everyone to obtain health coverage, and makes that coverage available by requiring insurers to accept all comers even if they have been sick and couldn't obtain insurance before. Those who can't afford coverage would be subsidized.

As the first health plan in the country to endorse universal coverage, Blue Shield has long understood that achieving insurance coverage for all requires responsibility to be shared by all. Everyone can qualify for coverage regardless of their health history only if everyone has an obligation to buy it.

Some have suggested that it's acceptable to require health plans to cover everyone without requiring that everyone have coverage. Like that freeloader who would enroll in Social Security only when he can cash out, individuals under that arrangement could buy health insurance only when they face expensive medical costs. The only way to offset those costs would be significantly higher premium rates for those who are paying their fair share. Not only does requiring participation make health care more affordable because costs are shared equitably. It also enables everyone to receive preventive care and early medical treatment for conditions before they get worse - and more expensive to treat.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2007

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Posted by healthinsurance at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)