Bloomberg News (4/28, Nussbaum) reports that Humana CEO Michael McCallister “said President Barack Obama’s plan for making government-backed insurance available to all may scuttle an overhaul of US healthcare. The public alternative, which Obama said will ensure access and keep private plans from overcharging, is instead a ‘slippery slope’ toward nationalized healthcare,” and the insurance industry “is prepared to fight,” he stated. He also raised objections about Medicare rates, asserting that the “artificially low” rates force “providers to shift more than $80 billion in costs to private insurance customers.” Likewise, a public plan “would lead to similar imbalances,” he contended.
Experts warn public plan would kill spirit of cooperation. CQ HealthBeat (4/28, Norman, subscription required) reports, “Mandating a public plan as part of the healthcare overhaul will create a ‘nuclear minefield’ that will destroy the collegiality that so far has marked this year’s debate, a public plan opponent warned at a forum Monday.” At an event organized by the Alliance for Healthcare Reform and the Commonwealth Fund, Stuart Butler, the vice president of domestic and economic policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that “traditional foes and allies have continued in polite conversation about the massive policy changes under consideration.” But, he warned, “the inclusion of a government-sponsored plan would change the dynamics.” Also at the event, doubts about public plans were expressed by Karen Ignani, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, who noted that in California, private-plan performance resulted in “double-digit percentage reductions in 2005 and 2006 in emergency room visits, re-admissions, office visits and hospital days for Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.”
Some business groups express strong reservations about public plan. CQ HealthBeat (4/28, Reichard, subscription required) reports, “Responding to a question by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel last week, a lineup of powerful business groups have weighed with a letter to the New York Democrat expressing ‘grave reservations’ about creating a new government-run health insurance plan as part of health overhaul legislation.” In the letter, which “amplifies the volume of criticism of the public plan concept,” the business leaders on the steering committee of the National Coalition for Benefits expressed their “grave concern.” They wrote, “A public plan, particularly combined with the impact of Medicare, Medicaid and other public plans, cannot operate on a level playing field and compete fairly if it acts as both a payer and a regulator.” By virtue of its “size and regulatory authority, [it] will merely shift costs to the private sector and employees covered by private plans.”