Health reform continues, at federal and state level…

Monday, February 8, 2010

* In Renewed Push, Obama To Host GOP at White House on CSPAN on February 25th
* President Cites Anthem Blue Cross of California Increasing Premiums up to 39%
* New Process Launched for Medi-Cal Federal Waiver Input
* Other Items: Some State and Federal Budget Dispatches on our Health Access Blog.
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PRESIDENT OBAMA RENEWS HEALTH REFORM EFFORTS: This weekend, President Obama made a couple of pronouncements renewing his call to pass comprehensive health reform. At a meeting of Democrats in a snow-bound Washington, DC, he said, “Let me be clear: I am not going to walk away from health reform,” bringing the audience in the hotel ballroom to their feet. “We can’t return to the dereliction of duty,” Obama said. “America can’t afford to wait, and we can’t look backward.”

On Sunday, he indicated in an CBS interview before the Super Bowl that he would be inviting leaders from both parties to the White House on February 25th to go over the “best ideas” on health reform, to inform the final negotiations in reconciling the House and Senate bills. The meeting, to be televised on C-SPAN, will likely provide a forum for Republican opponents of the current health reform proposals to provide their alternatives, and to point to parts of the proposals where Republican input has already been taken. Under this schedule laid out by President Obama, the expectation of action on health reform would be possibly in March.

ANTHEM BLUE CROSS HIKES PREMIUMS: In stressing the need for reform, President Obama cited the reasons why the status quo is unsustainable, including the premium increases by Anthem Blue Cross in California, the state’s largest insurer. The Los Angeles Times, in an article by Duke Hefland, reports that Anthem Blue Cross — a subsidiary of Wellpoint in Indianapolis — is increasing premiums 30% to 39% for the second year in a row for California customers of its individual policies.

Increases are set to take effect March 1, policyholders learned last week. In the Feller household in San Rafael, for instance, that makes the family’s health care policy more expensive than their mortgage payment. The Fellers will pay 39% more, driving their annual premium up to $19,896; and then there’s a 38% increase for their 26-year-old daughter, adding another $1,572 a year to the Feller’s bill.

The letter detailing the increase hints at more hikes to come. It says: “Anthem Blue Cross will usually adjust rates every 12 months; however, we may adjust more frequently in accordance with the terms of your health benefit plan.”

If you’ve got a story about your health insurance premium increases, Health Access would love to hear it. Please contact us directly, or visit

SHOULD WE PAY FOR PROBLEMS?: In this memorable past week, we found out that health care spending accounted for more than 17% of the nation’s gross national product.

Alan Weil, the executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, argues that we can bring down the costs of health care through common sense: Simply pay providers less when they mess up. Weil was in Sacramento for a policy discussion sponsored by the Center for Health Improvement and the California HealthCare Foundation. He argues that providers should face monetary penalties not just for so-called “never” events (mistakes “that should never happen”) but for mistakes that are perhaps less drastic such as hospital-acquired infections. Weil calls these “a shouldn’t-happen-very-often-event.”

It makes us think of a recent article by HealthLeaders Media that began with the question, ‘Why do hospital teams unintentionally leave more than 30 types of surgical tools or other items inside their patients, a category of hospital error that California officials say is the second most common preventable adverse event in acute care?”

The Legislature is scheduled to consider launching a study of the phenomena later this year. Either way, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to no longer reimburse hospitals for the cost of caring for a patient’s injuries, such as hospital-acquired infections, resulting from a “retained foreign object.”

GETTING THE BALL ROLLING WITH STAKEHOLDER INPUT ON THE MEDI-CAL WAIVER: The process continues to develop a renewal for California’s Medicaid waiver with the federal government. This past week saw the beginning of “technical workgroups” with some stakeholders set to give their input to the California Department of Health Care Services on proposed changes to Medi-Cal, which covers 7 million Californians.

With a focus on ensuring that consumer protections are in place for the Medi-Cal patients affected by the federal waiver request, Health Access is one of several organizations represented, with our Executive Director Anthony Wright ( sitting on two stakeholder groups: one on local coverage initiatives, the other on the changes to coverage for seniors and persons with disabilities.

These workgroups and a broader stakeholder advisory committee will consider these issues as the state moves toward submitting a final waiver request to the federal government this coming fall. We’ll post more on our blog in the near future.

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Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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