Tag: private insurance

FEHBP Plan Is No ‘Moderate Compromise’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced that he has reached a super secret compromise on how to deal with the so-called public option for health reform.  While Reid said the agreement was too important to actually tell anyone what is in it, most of the details have been leaked to the press.

Rather than set-up a completely government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurance, Congress would establish a program similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), which currently covers government workers, including Members of Congress.  The FEHBP offers a variety of private insurance plans under a program managed by the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  Each year OPM uses the Federal procurement process to solicit bids from insurance companies to be one of the plans offered.  Premiums can vary, but participating plans operate under stringent rules.   As a model, the FEHBP is apparently acceptable to moderate Democrats because the insurance plans are private rather than government entities, while liberals like it because it is government regulated and managed.

In addition, the compromise plan would expand Medicare, allowing workers ages 55 to 65 to “buy in” to the program, and may also expand Medicaid.

A few reasons to believe this is yet another truly bad idea:

  1. In choosing the FEHBP for a model, Democrats have actually chosen an insurance plan whose costs are rising faster than average.   FEHBP premiums are expected to rise 7.9 percent this year and 8.8 percent in 2010.  By comparison, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that on average, premiums will increase by 5.5 to 6.2 percent annually over the next few years.  In fact, FEHBP premiums are rising so fast that nearly 100,000 federal employees have opted out of the program.
  2. FEHBP members are also finding their choices cut back.  Next year, 32 insurance plans will either drop out of the program or reduce their participation.  Some 61,000 workers will lose their current coverage.
  3. But former OPM director Linda Springer doubts that the agency has the “capacity, the staff, or the mission,” to be able to manage the new program.  Taking on management of the new program could overburden OPM.  “Ultimate, it would break the system.”
  4. Medicare is currently $50-100 trillion in debt, depending on which accounting measure you use.  Allowing younger workers to join the program is the equivalent of crowding a few more passengers onto the Titanic.
  5. At the same time, Medicare under reimburses physicians, especially in rural areas.  Expanding Medicare enrollment will both threaten the continued viability of rural hospitals and other providers, and also result in increased cost-shifting, driving up premiums for private insurance.
  6. Medicaid is equally a budget-buster. The program now costs more than $330 billion per year, a cost that grew at a rate of roughly 10.7 percent annually.  The program spends money by the bushel, yet under-reimburses providers even worse than Medicare.
  7. Ultimately this so-called compromise would expand government health care programs and further squeeze private insurance, resulting in increased costs and higher insurance premiums, and provide a lower-quality of care.

No wonder Senator Reid wants to keep it a secret.

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Can’t Achieve Public Option Without Deception

Speaker Pelosi is set to unveil a health care bill today including yet another version of the so-called public option. This one would let providers “negotiate” reimbursement rates with the government-run program.

That’s the health care equivalent of negotiating with Tony Soprano.

But regardless of how much lipstick they put on this pig, it still is a government takeover of the health care system that would all but eliminate private insurance and force millions of Americans into a government-run system. Apparently the House leadership has decided that if at first you can’t get the votes by being honest about your true intentions, lie, lie, again.

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Medicare for Everyone?

According to The Hill, House Democrats are considering re-branding their new government-run health insurance program.  A “public option” evidently isn’t catchy enough.  Now they’re thinking, “Medicare Part E” as in, Medicare for Everyone.

By all means, model a new government program after Medicare, which:

Pleeeeease don’t throw me into that briar patch.

Why a “Public Option” Is Hazardous to Your Health

President Obama and other leading Democrats have proposed creating a new government health insurance program as an “option” for Americans under the age of 65. In a new study, Cato scholar Michael F. Cannon shows that government programs cost more and deliver lower-quality care than private insurance. “If Congress wants to make health care more efficient and increase competition in health insurance markets, there are far better options,” argues Cannon.

Fannie Med? Why a “Public Option” Is Hazardous to Your Health, Cato Policy Analysis No. 642

The Health Care Reform Bill Will Cost $500 Billion in New Taxes

House Democrats released their 1,018 page health care reform bill, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, yesterday.

This bill is a dog’s breakfast of bad ideas paid for by more than $500 billion in new taxes. The reform would impose an individual mandate on individuals, requiring every American to buy a government designed insurance package or pay a new tax equal to 2.5 percent of their income. At a time of rising unemployment, businesses would be required to provide health insurance to workers or pay a new tax equal to 8 percent of workers wages. These new taxes could drive the total cost to taxpayers much higher than the $500 billion in direct taxes in the bill.

In addition, the bill includes a host of new insurance regulations that will drive up the cost of insurance premiums, and a new government-run insurance plan that will “compete” with private insurance. That government-run plan will ultimately force millions of Americans out of their current insurance plan and into the government-run system. This is a health care “reform” under which Americans will pay more for worse care.

To get an idea of what sort of bureaucratic nightmare that would ensue with passage of this bill is illustrated by the Republican Staff of the Joint Economic Committee here.

For regular updates on the reform process as it progresses, check out Cato’s health care Web site.

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How Many Uninsured? It Does Not Matter

As my colleague Michael Cannon discusses below, in today’s WSJ Online, Carl Bialik examines the data on how many Americans do not have health insurance. Discussions like this one will be rehashed repeatedly during the coming health care debate, but they miss the crucial point: the U.S. should not expand government subsidy for health insurance whether the number of insured is 46 million or just 46.

The economics argument for subsidizing health insurance rests on the claim that private insurance markets do not provide fairly priced insurance. This is allegedly because insurers cannot distinguish the good health risks from the bad health risks and thus price insurance at a level only the bad risks are willing to pay.

This claim of “asymmetric information” is incredibly unpersuasive: absent regulation to the contrary, an insurance company can require any medical tests it wants and learn an insurance applicant’s health at least as well as the applicant. It can also condition coverage on relevant behavior, such as not smoking or maintaining a reasonable weight.

The problem is thus that insurance companies can determine all too well who is a good health risk and who is not, so they will price insurance accordingly if the law permits. This strikes many people as unfair, so they want to subsidize insurance for those born with unhealthy genes.

If insurance subsidies had few unintended consequences, this might be a reasonable form of social insurance. The problem is that subsidizing insurance exacerbates moral hazard, the tendency of people with insurance to consume too much health care. This is a crucial reason for rapidly increasing health expenditures.

Policy must therefore accept a trade-off: subsidizing health insurance will increase some people’s perceptions of fairness, but it will make the health care market less efficient.

A reasonable balancing of these two concerns suggests subsidizing insurance for the truly poor, but no more. In fact, the U.S. already does that via Medicaid. The uninsured are mainly people with too much income to qualify for Medicaid, or people eligible but fail to apply. Thus expansion of subsidized insurance to the currently uninsured, whatever their number, is likely to generate substantial inefficiency relative to any increase in “fairness” it creates.

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Week in Review: Health Care Battles, Pay Caps and North Korean Prisoners

Will Obama Raise Middle-Class Taxes to Fund Health Care?

President Obama is promoting an expansion in federal health care spending, and Democratic leaders are scrambling to find ways to pay for it. The plan is expected to cost about $1.5 trillion over the next decade, but the administration has promised that health care legislation won’t add to already huge federal budget deficits. In a new paper, Cato scholars Michael D. Tanner and Chris Edwards argue that expanding government health care will likely involve huge tax increases on the middle class.

Tanner warns of “Obamacare” to come, saying that Obama’s new health care plan will give “government control over one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and over some of the most important, personal, and private decisions in Americans’ lives.” Don’t miss Tanner’s in-depth analysis of the new health care plan that is making its way through Congress, which “would dramatically transform the American health care system in a way that would harm taxpayers, health care providers, and — most importantly — the quality and range of care given to patients.”

A part of the plan would include “public option” (read: government-run) health care, which would allow the government to compete against private health care providers. Tanner says it would be the first step toward wiping out the private insurance market as we know it:

Regardless of how it is structured or administered, such a plan would have an inherent advantage in the marketplace because it would ultimately be subsidized by taxpayers. It could, for instance, keep its premiums artificially low or offer extra benefits, then turn to the U.S. Treasury to cover any shortfalls. Consumers would naturally be attracted to the lower-cost, higher-benefit government program.

…It is unlikely that any significant private insurance market could continue to exist under such circumstances. America would be firmly on the road to a single-payer health care system with all the dangers that presents. That would be a disaster for American taxpayers, physicians, and—most importantly—patients.

Treasury Seeks to Control Executive Pay Across the Private Sector

Fox Business reports, “The Treasury Department on Wednesday took new steps to rein in executive compensation, saying the Obama Administration would introduce legislation that could create stricter limits on pay; it also appointed an official to head up efforts on the issue.”

In a 2008 Policy Analysis Ira T. Kay and Steven Van Putten explain the misconceptions many people have about executive pay, and why the market is a better arbiter than any bureaucrat in Washington:

Such populist sentiments are often based on misunderstandings about the role of corporate executives in the economy and the vigorous competition that exists for these highly skilled leaders. In the past, federal regulatory efforts based on such misunderstandings have generated unintended consequences, which have damaged the economy and hurt the ability of the market for executives to self-regulate over time.

The labor market for executives and the associated pay levels are already subject to high levels of regulation. Indeed, U.S. corporations are subject to more stringent executive pay disclosure requirements than corporations anywhere else in the world. Before additional regulatory and legislative efforts are unleashed, policymakers should examine the rationale for current pay structures and the strong links between executive pay and corporate performance.

In a Washington Times op-ed, Alan Reynolds says efforts to cap executive pay are wholly misguided:

Congressional hearings to barbecue Wall Street executives are as fun as a circus, but with more clowns. Presidential politics is now taking such political distractions to a lower level.

…Most top executives who were actually in charge during the craze of overinvestment in mortgage-backed securities have been fired. Executives who are fired are not in a position to be “giving themselves” anything.

In reality, top executives are mainly paid by accumulating a big stockpile of company stock and stock options. Estimates of annual CEO pay that Congress and the press have been focusing on look as high as they do only because of the high value of restricted stock or stock options at the time.

Writing in 2007 (before the first round of major bailouts), Cato scholars Jerry Taylor and Jagadeesh Gokhale took it a step further: “Pay Bosses More!”:

Excessive executive compensation harms no one but perhaps the stockholders who put up with it. And stockholders put up with it because there’s good reason to believe that sizable CEO compensation packages help – not harm – corporate performance, which redounds to their benefit, and that of the firms’ workers.

Companies pay workers what they must to deliver their products and services to the market, and supply and demand establishes executive compensation packages the same way it establishes consumer prices. Any overcompensation comes out of the firm’s bottom line – at a loss to the shareholders, not the workers.

North Korea Sentences Two U.S. Journalists to 12 Years Hard Labor

Two American journalists were convicted of entering North Korea illegally while on assignment, and exhibiting “hostility toward the Korean people.” This week, a North Korean court sentenced them to 12 years in a labor prison.

Cato scholar Doug Bandow comments:

Washington should publicly downplay the controversy and present the issue to the Kim regime as a humanitarian matter. The Obama administration should indicate its willingness to open a broader dialogue with North Korea, but indicate that positive results will be possible only if Pyongyang responds with cooperation instead of confrontation. Releasing the two journalists obviously would provide evidence of the former.

Regrettably, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are political pawns. As such, Washington’s best strategy to achieve their release is to simultaneously reduce their perceived value to Pyongyang and ease tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Patience may be the Obama administration’s highest virtue and Ling’s and Lee’s greatest hope.

In a Cato Daily Podcast, Bandow discusses what can be done for the American prisoners, and how the U.S. government should react.