A Detailed Analysis of Barack Obama's Health Care Reform Plan


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Barack Obama’s health care plan follows the Democratic template—an emphasis on dramatically and quickly increasing the number of people who have health insurance by spending significant money upfront.

The Obama campaign estimates his health care reform plan will cost between $50 and $65 billion a year when fully phased in. He assumes that it will be paid from savings in the system and from discontinuing the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year.


Obama breaks his health care reform plan down into three parts saying that it builds “upon the strengths of the U.S. health care system.”

The three parts are:

1. Quality, Affordable & Portable Health Coverage For All
2. Modernizing The U.S. Health Care System To Lower Costs & Improve Quality
3. Promoting Prevention & Strengthening Public Health

Obama claims that his health care reform plan will save the typical family up to $2,500 every year through:

* Health information technology investment aimed at reducing unnecessary spending that results from preventable errors and inefficient paper billing systems.
* Improving prevention and management of chronic conditions.
* Increasing insurance industry competition and reducing underwriting costs and profits in order to reduce insurance overhead.
* Providing reinsurance for catastrophic coverage, which will reduce insurance premiums.
* Making health insurance universal which will reduce spending on uncompensated care.

Will Obama be able to cut the typical family’s health care costs by $2,500 a year?

Well, yes and no.

Let’s take a look at the three main parts of the Obama health plan:

1. “Quality, Affordable & Portable Health Coverage For All”

Obama follows the Democratic health care template by building on existing private and public programs such as employer health insurance, private individual health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Obama’s key components here include:

* Establishing a new public program that would look a lot like Medicare for those under age-65 that would be available to those who do not have access to an employer plan or qualify for existing government programs like Medicaid or SCHIP. This would also be open to small employers who do not offer a private plan.
* Creating a “National Health Insurance Exchange.” This would be a government-run marketing organization that would sell insurance plans directly to those who did not have an employer plan or public coverage.
* An employer “pay or play” provision that would require an employer to either provide health insurance or contribute toward the cost of a public plan.
* Mandating that families cover all children through either a private or public health insurance plan.
* Expanding eligibility for government programs, like Medicaid and SCHIP.
* Allow flexibility in embracing state health reform initiatives.

Obama would also mandate guaranteed insurability, a generous minimum comprehensive benefits package such as that required for federal workers, the ability to take their policy from one job to another (portability) when it is purchased through the new Medicare-like public plan or the "National Health Insurance Exchange," and he would require providers to participate in a new plan to collect and report data about standards of care, the use of health information technology, and administration.

In Europe they have a way of explaining the general philosophy toward universal health care for all. You often here the term, “solidarity.” The concept implies that everyone is in it together—all are covered in the same pool and share the burden equally.

Obama sets as his goal quality, affordable, and portable coverage for all.
. Modernizing The U.S. Health Care System To Lower Costs and Improve Quality

Obama would argue that I am wrong about the notion that he has no effective cost containment ideas. In this section of his plan he argues he will contain, if not reduce costs, with a long list of proposals.

He would reinsure employer plans for a portion of their catastrophic costs. This would reduce employer costs but it would do so by simply shifting them onto the government. He runs the risk of shifting these costs away from a market that now has incentives to manage them to a big government program that likely will not have the same incentives to confront and manage them. I don’t see this as cost saving as much as just cost shifting.

Obama goes on to outline a long list of quality initiatives that include disease management programs, coordinated care, transparency about cost and quality of care, improved patient safety, aligning incentives for excellence, comparative effectiveness reviews, and reducing disparities in health care treatments for the same illness.

Obama would also reform the medical malpractice system by strengthening “antitrust laws to prevent insurers from overcharging physicians for malpractice insurance.”

Obama makes investments in health information technology an important part of his cost containment strategy.

Obama would make the insurance markets more competitive and efficient by creating the “National Health Insurance Exchange” to promote more efficient competition and he would set a minimum health cost ratio for insurers

He would legalize drug reimportation. However, the amount of drugs imported from Canada, for example, has fallen by half in recent years, as this once popular scheme hasn’t produced the savings to even maintain itself at past levels

He would emphasize the use of generics by making it harder for drug companies to payoff generic makers to stay out of their markets—a good idea that also has bipartisan support.
He proposes lifting the ban on Medicare being able to negotiate drug prices—including those for the senior Part D program. However, recent Democratic proposals to do so do not allow Medicare to take a drug off the Medicare formulary when the manufacturer is not willing to reduce its prices. If Medicare doesn’t have the power to walk away from a drug maker, its power to negotiate is a hollow one. Obama does not tell us if he would give Medicare the leverage it would need to get real results.

Promoting Prevention & Strengthening Public Health

At the core of this Obama health care proposal is the notion that, “Each must do their part…to create the conditions and opportunities that allow and encourage Americans to adopt healthy lifestyles.”

Obama lists employer wellness programs, attacking childhood obesity in the schools, expanding the number of primary care providers, and disease prevention programs as part of his effort.

Again, his emphasis on healthier lifestyles is embraced

Perhaps the most important thing a new president can do in this regard is to use the “bully pulpit” to place far more emphasis on just how unhealthy Americans are becoming. We can pass all of the health care reform proposals we like and spend the many more in billions of dollars each year but that will do little as we watch our youngest generation on its way to becoming the first in American history to be less healthy than the prior generation.

Will the Obama health reform plan work?

The Obama health reform plan would get almost everyone covered.
  • the question for them is how will they create an affordable health care system with only incremental cost containment ideas?

  • here’s one little problem with using the FEHBP as a model, FEHBP promotes premium-saving competition among a wide variety of health plans, but they are all private plans, ranging from managed care plans to health savings accounts

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