Health Care Review

May 18, 2011

Keeping with the ongoing trend, health care continues to make headlines with a variety of new developments within the last week. NSBA has been busy with the unveiling on March 18 of an updated Health Care Reform Today and Tomorrow Web site and also has weighed-in on the establishment of essential health benefits. Meanwhile, two new reports have been released detailing increasing health care costs and Medicare’s fiscal outlook, as medical malpractice legislation moves in the House.

NSBA’s Health Reform Today and Tomorrow Web site

NSBA this week is unveiling a revamped Health Care Reform Today and Tomorrow Web site which places a greater emphasis on late-breaking news and resources. The new site will provide small-business owners with a comprehensive, yet easy-to-navigate resource section where they can find information ranging from a subsidy calculator to contact information for their state’s Insurance Commissioner.

The site still offers a detailed timeline  for implementation of the health care reform law, an updated FAQ, andissue briefs outlining NSBA’s advocacy efforts on health care. Through the Web site, small-business owners are encouraged to share their stories about the challenges of health care and how costs are impacting their business.

Essential Health Benefits

As previously reported, the essential health benefits package is the benchmark set in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to meet the individual mandate and employer free-rider provision (for those employers with more than 50 employees), and will be the basis for what is provided by qualified health plans post-2014. The provision establishing the essential health benefits package is vague in statute and left to the Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS) to define. HHS charged the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to provide guidance on policy principles and criteria in developing the package.

The next IOM meeting to discuss essential health benefits is June 2011. NSBA recently submitted comments to the IOM workgroup highlighting concerns from the small-business community with respect to the impact essential health benefits could have on the affordability of health insurance. Click here to read NSBA’s comments. The IOM is expected to finalize their study in September 2011 and HHS is expected to release proposed regulations later this year.

Studies Reinforce Alarming Health Care Trends

The annual Milliman Medical Index was recently released and reinforces the alarming trends that have been evident for small businesses over the last decade. The report indicates that health costs for families with employer provided health insurance have doubled over the last nine years with projected costs to be $8,008 this year from $3,634 in 2002. When counting employers’ contributions, this year’s total health care cost for a family of four more than doubled to $19,393 from $9,235 in 2002, which represents a seven percent increase for 2011 compared to 2010. Click here to read the report.

In addition, the Medicare Trustees report was released last week to highlight the financial health of the Medicare program. According to the report, the Medicare program will remain solvent until 2024, five years sooner that reported last year. The report notes that without the recent health care law, the program’s solvency would have expired in 2016. Republicans and Democrats have both used the report to underscore their platforms: Republicans arguing that the results show a dire need for entitlement reform amid the debt-ceiling debate and Democrats touting their health law reform as reason for its prolonged solvency.

Nonetheless, the program’s long-term solvency remains at question and must be addressed within a larger deficit reduction and entitlement reform initiative. Click here to read NSBA’s issue brief on deficit reduction and entitlement reform.

Medical malpractice reform

As previously reported, comprehensive medical malpractice reform legislation is making its way through the House of Representatives. Most recently, the House Energy and Commerce Committee reported the bill by a vote of 30-20 to the full House of Representatives. The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011 (H.R. 5), previously passed the House Judiciary Committee, and may be taken up by the full House before Memorial Day.