Oregon's Wyden Puts out Universal Health Proposal

December 14, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A US Senate Democrat has released a new proposal to provide private health coverage to all Americans.

Under the Healthy Americans Act plan by Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), employers would share the responsibility of financing health care with individuals and the government. According to a Wyden news release, during a two-year transition phase, employers who have been providing health insurance will cash out the value of that health insurance and provide that amount in wages to their employees.

After the 24-month period, all employers will make a shared responsibility payment of up to 25% of the average premium for essential care in the area. Under the Act Americans would be able to choose from a variety of plans offered in their state providing coverage similar to what is currently available to members of Congress, the news release said.

Wyden gave the example that a worker who earned $60,000 last year, and received about $12,000 worth of health care coverage would have his employer-sponsored health coverage terminated, but his salary would increase to $72,000, which would cover health care coverage under the universal plan. The bill would bar workers from buying a “bare-bones” health package and pocketing the savings, Wyden said.

The Act provides for state-based Health Help Agencies (HHAs) to guide individuals through the enrollment process. HHAs also will connect individuals and families with sliding scale premium reductions, and most individuals and families will qualify for health care tax deductions, the lawmaker said.

In addition, patients will not be charged co-pays for preventive services or chronic disease management and insurers will be able to offer discounts and other incentives based on participation in wellness programs such as nutrition counseling, tobacco cessation and exercise. Primary care physicians will be reimbursed for undertaking chronic disease management and prevention.

“The Healthy Americans Act provides a guarantee: health coverage for every American that is at least as good as members of Congress receive and can never be taken away,”Wyden said, in the release. “The act provides universal coverage for no more money than our country spends today. Better care, financial health and security, no increase in costs.”

For those who already have existing health problems, occupation, gender, genetic information and age will no longer be allowed to impact a person’s eligibility or the price paid for insurance.


Outside Review

According to news reports, the Lewin Group, a Virginia-based health care consulting firm, reviewed the plan at Wyden’s request. The consultant said the proposal would reduce health spending by private employers by nearly three-quarters and save $1.4 trillion in total national health care spending over the next decade.

Increases in premium payments for individuals and families would be offset by higher wages and subsidies provided under the plan, the report said.

Wyden’s plan is an outgrowth of work by the Citizens’ Health Care Working Group, a 14-member panel that held meetings in 36 states and heard from 28,000 people about how to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

The group, created in 2003 by legislation sponsored by Wyden and Senator Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah), recommended that the government take steps to guarantee that all Americans have basic health insurance coverage by 2012.

More information about the Wyden proposal is here .