Everybody weighing in on health care reform debate

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Insurance industry organizations, groups representing hospitals, doctors and nurses — as well as groups that represent consumers and the uninsured — have announced studies and plans that reflect both the need for health care reform and their need to shape the dialogue.

America’s Health Insurance Plans has released reports showing that Medicare Advantage — a program offered as a supplement to fee-for-service Medicare — reduces hospital time and re-admissions.

The industry group for health insurance companies says that the information, culled from data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows that Medicare Advantage should remain part of reform efforts.

“Medicare Advantage plans coordinate care, help seniors manage chronic conditions and focus on prevention to help seniors stay healthy,” said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of AHIP. “The entire Medicare program, including Medicare Advantage, should be carefully evaluated as part of comprehensive health care reform. However, seniors in Medicare Advantage should not be forced to fund a disproportionate share of the costs to reform the health care system.”

Echoing those concerns, the American Medical Association reports that people older than 50 are “concerned” about the current system.

The data released by the AARP, the AMA and the American Nurses Association shows that half of people older than 50 are concerned there will not be enough nurses or doctors to provide care in the future, and two-thirds are concerned that the current system limits their ability to see the doctor of their choice.

“The fact that we need to strengthen our health care system may have been lost in some of the media coverage over the last several weeks, but this survey of Americans shows that the need is as great as ever,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond.

The polling found that nearly nine in 10 people (87 percent) believed it was important for doctors to be reimbursed adequately so they continue to accept patients who use Medicare.

Also of note, more than three-fourths (78 percent) are worried that some day either they or someone they know might incur a cost that wouldn’t be covered by their health insurance.

Other organizations are focusing on concerns in their target audiences. Families USA reports that Colorado insurance premiums have — once again — increased. And not surprisingly, this increase highlights the urgent need for reform.

According to the figures, family health care premiums rose an estimated 4.2 times faster than earnings during the past decade. And for that same time period, premiums rose by 86.9 percent, while earnings rose by only 20.5 percent.

Disproportionately high increases in insurance premiums have continued despite employees receiving “thinner coverage” — coverage that offers fewer benefits and/or that comes with higher deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance, the report said.

“Rising health care costs threaten the financial well-being of families in Colorado and across the nation,” said Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA. “If health care reform does not happen soon, more and more families will be priced out of the health coverage they used to take for granted.”

Even worse than rising costs is the loss of health coverage altogether.

Between 2000 and 2008, the total percentage of U.S. firms offering health coverage declined by 6 percentage points — from 69 percent of firms to 63 percent — with small businesses being the most likely to drop coverage.

“For America’s businesses and families, the absence of health care reform is unaffordable and unacceptable,” said Pollack. “It will mean that businesses have a harder time staying competitive, and more and more families have to cope with stagnant wages and the loss of affordable health coverage.”

Pollack cited four of the many causes of skyrocketing health care premiums: wasteful health care spending; an almost unregulated insurance market; a dramatic drop in competition in the insurance market; and costs shifted from the uninsured to the insured, termed a “hidden health tax.”

“All of these issues can be addressed in a comprehensive reform of our health care system that will allow businesses and families to afford quality health coverage,” he said.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.