Moving Medicare to the FEHBP model, or how to make an elephant fly.
Transforming Medicare into a Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP)-type program holds the promise of more choice, lower costs (in the long term), and higher quality--a fine concept that will collapse in its implementation unless at least three conditions are met. (1) Congress gets the regulatory structure right and then refrains from annual tinkering, (2) Congress does not set unrealistic expectations regarding "cost savings," especially if a prescription drug benefit is added, and (3) administrative agency staff have the requisite training and a "privatizing" orientation. Given Medicare's history and the "Medicare-industrial complex," none of those conditions is likely to be met. (+info
Tax subsidies for health insurance: costs and benefits.
The continued rise in the uninsured population has lead to considerable interest in tax-based policies to raise the level of insurance coverage. Using a detailed microsimulation model for evaluating these policies, we find that while tax subsidies could significantly increase insurance coverage, even very generous tax policies could not cover more than a sizable minority of the uninsured population. For example, a generous refundable credit that costs $13 billion per year would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by only four million persons. We also find that the efficiency of tax policies, in terms of the cost per newly insured, inevitably would fall as more of the uninsured were covered. (+info
Expanding access and choice for health care consumers through tax reform.
A refundable tax credit for the uninsured would complement the existing job-based health insurance system while letting people keep their job-based coverage if they wish. Among the wide variety of design options for a tax credit, policy and political analysis does not reveal an obvious choice, but a tax credit based on a percentage of spending may have a slight advantage. Congress should give states maximum flexibility to use existing funding sources to supplement the value of a federal tax credit and encourage the use of techniques to create stable insurance pools. (+info
Crisis, leadership, consensus: the past and future federal role in health.
This paper touches on patterns of federal government involvement in the health sector since the late 18th century to the present and speculates on its role in the early decades of the 21st century. Throughout the history of the US, government involvement in the health sector came only in the face of crisis, only when there was widespread consensus, and only through sustained leadership. One of the first health-related acts of Congress came about as a matter of interstate commerce regarding the dilemma as to what to do about treating merchant seamen who had no affiliation with any state. Further federal actions were implemented to address epidemics, such as from yellow fever, that traveled from state to state through commercial ships. Each federal action was met with concern and resistance from states' rights advocates, who asserted that the health of the public was best left to the states and localities. It was not until the early part of the 20th century that a concern for social well-being, not merely commerce, drove the agenda for public health action. Two separate campaigns for national health insurance, as well as a rapid expansion of programs to serve the specific health needs of specific populations, led finally to the introduction of Medicaid and Medicare in the 1960s, the most dramatic example of government intervention in shaping the personal health care delivery system in the latter half of the 20th century. As health costs continued to rise and more and more Americans lacked adequate health insurance, a perceived crisis led President Clinton to launch his 1993 campaign to insure every American--the third attempt in this century to provide universal coverage. While the crisis was perceived by many, there was no consensus on action, and leadership outside government was missing. Today, the health care crisis still looms. Despite an economic boom, 1 million Americans lose their health insurance each year, with 41 million Americans, or 15% of the population, lacking coverage. Private premiums are going up again as federal programs are capped and the lack of a federal framework for quality assurance leads to growing problems of access and quality that will need to be addressed as we enter the 21st century. What role will government play? (+info
"Health for three-thirds of the nation": public health advocacy of universal access to medical care in the United States.
The public health community has made important, original contributions to the debate over universal access to health services in the United States. Well before the decision of the American Public Health Association in 1944 to endorse a health plan encompassing virtually the entire populace, prominent public health practitioners and scholars embraced universality as an essential principle of health policy. Influenced by Arthur Newsholme, C.-E. A. Winslow began to promote this principle in the 1920s. Many others came to justify universal medical care as a corollary of the traditional ideal of all-inclusive public health services. By the 1940s, most leaders in the field saw national health insurance as the best way to attain universal access. For the past 30 years, advocates of universalism have asserted a social right to health services. (+info
Paying for national health insurance--and not getting it.
The threat of steep tax hikes has torpedoed the debate over national health insurance. Yet according to our calculations, the current tax-financed share of health spending is far higher than most people think: 59.8 percent. This figure (which is about fifteen percentage points higher than the official Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS] estimate) includes health care-related tax subsidies and public employees' health benefits, neither of which are classified as public expenditures in the CMS accounting framework. U.S. tax-financed health spending is now the highest in the world. Indeed, our tax-financed costs exceed total costs in every nation except Switzerland. But the sub rosa character of much tax-financed health spending in the United States obscures its regressivity. Public spending for care of the poor, elderly, and disabled is hotly debated and intensely scrutinized. But tax subsidies that accrue mostly to the affluent and health benefits for middle-class government workers are mostly below the radar screen. National health insurance would require smaller tax increases than most people imagine and would make government's role in financing care more visible and explicit. (+info
The unfulfilled promise of public health: deja vu all over again.
Many complain about public health's weak infrastructure and poor capacity to respond to threats of bioterrorism. Such complaints are but the anxiety-heightened expression of a periodic rediscovery of the deficiencies and unfulfilled promise of U.S. public health. An overview of more than two centuries suggests that where we are now with public health has been shaped by our earlier, limited, and crisis-focused responses to changing disease threats. We have failed to sustain progress in any coherent manner. If we do not wish to repeat past mistakes, we should learn lessons from the past to guide us in the future. (+info
Health care reform: lessons from Canada.
Although Canadian health care seems to be perennially in crisis, access, quality, and satisfaction in Canada are relatively high, and spending is relatively well controlled. The Canadian model is built on a recognition of the limits of markets in distributing medically necessary care. Current issues in financing and delivering health care in Canada deserve attention. Key dilemmas include intergovernmental disputes between the federal and provincial levels of government and determining how to organize care, what to pay for (comprehensiveness), and what incentive structures to put in place for payment. Lessons for the United States include the importance of universal coverage, the advantages of a single payer, and the fact that systems can be organized on a subnational basis. (+info