Archive for Saturday, October 7, 2006

Candidates differ on health insurance

Sebelius, Barnett tout plans to insure more Kansans

October 7, 2006


— With 300,000 uninsured Kansans, health care has become a major issue in the race for governor, and the two major party candidates have vastly different ideas on the subject.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat seeking re-election and a former state insurance commissioner, has made access to health insurance a top priority during her administration.

Challenger Jim Barnett, a Republican state senator and physician from Emporia, also has focused on health issues during his legislative career, and he is chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committees.

Sebelius' proposals

Sebelius has proposed making sure all children from birth to 5 years old have health coverage.

"It makes sure that kids get the preventative care they need, they have a healthy home and they can be treated at an earlier stage at a more cost-effective manner," Sebelius said.

She included $3.5 million for the plan in her budget proposal earlier this year, but it was rejected by the Legislature.

On health issues, Sebelius has run into opposition several times from the Republican-dominated Legislature.

"I'm afraid it's an area where the Legislature too often has decided that politics is better than helping the people of Kansas," she said.

In 2005, lawmakers ignored Sebelius' plan to raise cigarette taxes to provide health care coverage to more low-income adults and to provide tax credits for small-businesses' health plans.

Also in 2005, Republicans blocked Sebelius' executive order to reorganize Medicaid and then passed their own version, which was similar to Sebelius'.

Barnett's proposals

Barnett has criticized Sebelius' efforts on health care.

"The central issue is, is it the role of government to insure everyone in Kansas? Her step is a step in the direction of socialized medicine," he said.

Barnett said the current availability of Medicaid and Healthwave - programs that provide heath coverage for low-income families - is adequate.

"I support our current system, which does provide health insurance to the needy," he said. "Before we expand Medicaid and welfare, we need to be able to afford what we are currently providing."

In recent days, Barnett has been pushing a new proposal that would create the Kansas Health Connector.

Under this plan, most insurance companies would be required to sell health policies through the connector. Instead of getting insurance through a group, such as the workplace, Kansans would buy their policies on an individual basis through the connector.

"This is a way for you to own insurance," Barnett said. "I want that insurance to be yours, so that you carry it with you and buy it with pre-tax dollars."

He said policyholders would keep their policies as they change jobs. He said he didn't know how much the plan would cost but maintained it would reduce costs in the long-run by reducing duplicative medical tests that occur now when people change insurers.

Such a system has started in Massachusetts and is being watched closely by states, including the Kansas Health Policy Authority, to see whether it works.

The Massachusetts plan, however, requires people to purchase coverage, and it requires employers to pay a certain amount for each employee for insurance. It sets monetary fines for people who don't have insurance.

Sebelius says Barnett's plan would create a "major new bureaucracy" and goes against the concept of making insurance affordable by spreading insurance risks among large groups of policyholders.

"Individual insurance is the most expensive and least protective kind of insurance," she said.

"What I think makes a lot more sense is to get people in groups. The people who have health insurance, the vast majority, are in group health plans. What we want to do is create larger pools so that self-employed, small-business owners can be in group plans," she said.


Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

I agree with SettingTheRecordStraight. I disagree with both candidates on this issue.

Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

Sebelius: ""Individual insurance is the most expensive and least protective kind of insurance," she said.

That is flat out false. FLAT OUT. It is outrageous that the former insurance commissioner would perpetuate that myth. Either she is completely ignorant and is just making things up, or she is lying in order to make it look like her plan is better.

sourpuss 11 years, 8 months ago

What is your evidence to the contrary, Godot? At this point, it is your word against hers and as you pointed out, she was insurance commissioner. I tend to believe her, based on her experience, without proof otherwise. However, I am happy to entertain your evidence.

SettingTheRecordStraight 11 years, 8 months ago

If you want to make healthcare more bureaucratic, less easy to access, less innovative, and more complicated, just get the government involved.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 8 months ago

Republicans keep spinning the healthcare into one of socialized medicine which is simply not true. No one is pushing socialized medicine only a National Health Insurance plan. This plan does not change how the current medical treatments are chosen however likely would reduce costs by at least 25%. Yes tax dollars would provide coverage however patients still make the choices. Prescription cost would likely be reduced as well as the buyer would be the state or the USA.

So as not to reinvent the wheel which saves tons of money medicare could be the vehicle.

Insurance companies of course would be the primary well funded opposition. They spend plenty on political candidates believe me.

Katara 11 years, 8 months ago

So what happens if you are uninsurable (i.e. too big of a risk for the company to be willing to take on)? Does Barnett suggest eliminating any waiting periods for pre-existing conditions in his plan for people to "own" their insurance?

It just seems to me that a group has a better chance or negotiating better rates on insurance than an individual. How does having an individual purchase the insurance (with or without employer contribution such as MA) lower the cost of the premiums?

From the article, "He said policyholders would keep their policies as they change jobs. He said he didn't know how much the plan would cost but maintained it would reduce costs in the long-run by reducing duplicative medical tests that occur now when people change insurers."

How many duplicative tests happen when people change insurance? It doesn't seem likely that there would be enough to make a difference in insurance costs. This statement by Barnett does not make sense. Why would an insurance company be able to make you wait on coverage for a "pre-existing" condition if they are doing so many duplicative tests? Isn't it already confirmed as "pre-existing condition"?

Maybe I'm missing something on what he is trying to explain.

Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

Excuse me. With most mainstream health insurance companies, there are no "tests" involved when determining whether a person qualifies for insurance or not. They simply ask you detailed questions about your health history, check it out with your past physicians, and make a decision from there.

The "duplicative tests" is simply a non-issue.

Everyone would be better off to obtain an individually owned health insurance plan at the earliest possible age, and stick with it. Once you are insured by a company on an individually owned plan, you cannot be cancelled. That is state law and Sebelius knows it.

If you are covered by your employer's plan, you are at great risk. The employer can change plans, can reduce coverage, or can even eliminate the plan, or you can be laid off, fired, or you can quit. If you have a pre-existing medical condition at that time, you are toast when it comes to securing health insurance on your own.

Imagine if that happened if you were in the middle of a health crisis. Reduced beneits? No coverage at all?

The Feds have taken some steps to protect people covered by employer plans by requiring health insurance companies to offer 18 to 36 months of coverage at the same rate that the employer was charging, plus a couple of percentage point, to people who lose coverage, but, after the 18 to 36 months, the rate can increase by several fold.

Owning your own health insurance is a path to owning your own future.

If I had anything to say about it, I would require eveyone, at age 18, to obtain a health insurance policy, and require all insurance companies to accept that person without pre-existing exclusions. I would then require all employers to pay 50% of the cost of their employees' health insurance. And the contribution on the part of the employee and the employer would be tax deductible.

I would also require all not-for-profit hospitals to offer basic, bare bones health care. Several beds to a room, unless medically contraindicated, no frills, just saving lives and improving health for the good of all, in order to maintain their not-for-profit status. The actual cost of care for those not-for-profits would become the standard reimbursement for care for all health insurance providers in Kansas. Anything over and above, is at the cost of the patient.

That is what I would do.

sourpuss 11 years, 8 months ago

What if you couldn't afford health insurance at 18? What if you just have a high school degree and work for minimum wage. You could barely afford rent and food much less health insurance. Are you going to force insurance companies to cap their rates? What if you could afford the insurance at 18, but couldn't at 22, or 32, or 62? Or will everyone be guaranteed to keep their insurance even if they can't pay for it? What if your insurance company goes out of business? Will others be required to take on "high risk" customers?

Socialized medicine is the only humane program. Get rid of all insurance companies. They are vampires.

Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

You are forced to buy insurance if you want to drive a car. You should be forced to buy insurance to expect to receive health care.

A good health insurance plan for an 18 year old is under $50 per month.

If your employer paid half of that, you would be on the hook for less than $25 per month.

How much do you pay for your cell phone, your cable, your internet? Your beer? Your pizza? Your tokes?

Bruce Bertsch 11 years, 8 months ago are incredibly naive. COBRA is the law that makes health insurance protable. The premium charged in corporate palns is based on the overall risk of the company, so those health questions do matter. If you have not been continously insured they can and often will refuse to cover new employees for pre-existing conditions. Person plan carriers can also increase premiums substantially to cover risk after they have determined what your experience is. Personal plans are dramatically more expensive that group in the long run.

Since every industrialized nation except one has some form of national healthcare, one has to ask,"What do they know that we don't?" We also have the highest cost of care in the world. To put it bluntly, the system is broken, we need to fix it.

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