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Managed Care Week

Health Plan Pushes Universal Care

by Staff Writers
April 28, 2003

Calls for universal coverage intensified last week, with proposals outlined by a nonprofit insurer, a presidential candidate and a health policy research group.

Blue Shield of California last week proposed a detailed program that would provide health insurance coverage to California's 6.6 million uninsured residents, at an annual price tag of $7.8 billion. The plan would build on the employer-sponsored health system, requiring all but the smallest firms to offer coverage or contribute toward a benefit package for each employee.

The San Francisco-based insurer first introduced the plan in late 2002 (MCW 12/23/02, p. 1), and last week presented a detailed analysis of the program's costs and savings. The analysis was prepared by health policy expert Kenneth Thorpe, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Rollins School of Public Health, part of Emory University. Thorpe estimated that state government would cover $4.5 billion of the cost, employers would pay $3.2 billion and individuals would pay $63 million.

Blue Shield of California's proposal was sharply criticized by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer advocacy group. "It's not surprising that they would support a plan that would guarantee them new customers while avoiding proper oversight of their rates," said the foundation's Jerry Flanagan.

Also last week, two health policy experts from The Commonwealth Fund proposed a national universal coverage program that would cover an estimated 39 million of the nation's estimated 42 million uninsured, at a total annual net federal cost of $70 billion.

Karen Davis and Cathy Schoen's proposal would expand the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and public programs and establish tax credits for the uninsured to buy coverage. It also would build on the employer-sponsored system with a pay-or-play mandate requiring employers to cover workers or contribute 5% of payroll to a coverage fund.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) unveiled his universal coverage plan, with a cost analysis also prepared by Thorpe. Gephardt's proposal would create a 60% refundable tax credit for employers that provide coverage for workers. It also would reimburse state and local governments for 60% of the cost of employees' health insurance.
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Call Jackie Quintanilla for Blue Shield of California at (310) 577-7870 or Jerry Flanagan at (415) 633-1320.