Though millions of workers face rising health insurance costs and dwindling benefits in 2011, many CEOs will retain employer-paid medical plans and health benefits worth thousands of dollars.
PEWAUKEE, Wis. (AP) — Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker said Thursday he wants to eliminate state taxes on health savings accounts, a move he said would benefit small businesses and help make Wisconsin a more attractive destination for other companies.
The proposal is one of several he plans to put forth following his Jan. 3 inauguration, in a special legislative session intended to help give the states economy a jolt.ER
Wisconsin is one of four states that taxes contributions to the health savings accounts, or HSAs. Walker said eliminating those taxes would provide taxpayer relief and also ease the health care costs that small businesses shoulder.
Theyre not the panacea, theyre not going to solve every bit of the health care crisis, he said of the proposed tax exemptions. But I think theyre a key part of the solution.
Heres how HSAs work. People can make tax-deductible contributions into the personal accounts, and they can withdraw the money tax-free at any point to cover routine and preventative medical care.
Supporters say the program encourages people to save for their future health care expenses, and it also gives them more control over medical procedures to which they may feel entitled.
Opponents worry the program will encourage a system where healthy people leave insurance plans in favor of HSAs, meaning rates would go up to cover the people who avoid HSAs because of health problems.
A message left with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was not immediately returned.
Walker said HSAs provide a reasonable free-market solution and that they help avoid the alternative of reining in costs by having to ration health care.
He said he was confident state lawmakers would see the value in making HSAs tax-exempt.
Because whats the harm in it? he said. Its not mandating (anything), its not dictating. Its giving you one more option.
Making HSAs tax-exempt would save Wisconsin taxpayers $4 million to $8 million, he said.
Walker has also promised to propose a number of other measures he said would improve Wisconsins business climate. Those measures include cutting taxes on small businesses, revamping the Commerce Department, curbing frivolous lawsuits and filling his administration with people who have a Chamber of Commerce mentality.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.
To the Editor:
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Re “Transplant Patients Put at Risk by a State’s Financial Distress” (front page, Dec. 3):
A constant refrain in the debate about universal access to health care in the United States is the assertion that it would inevitably lead to rationing of health care.
The decision by Arizona to disallow Medicaid coverage for organ transplants is but the latest reminder that health care is already being rationed in the United States. The rationing is done according to one’s ability to pay and clearly values the lives of the wealthy over the lives of the poor.
Neil W. Schluger
New York, Dec. 3, 2010
The writer is chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.
To the Editor:
Arizona’s decision to stop financing some lifesaving transplants was short-sighted and based on misleading data on transplant outcomes. This decision suggests that the state is rationing health care based on cost rather than on need, and the National Marrow Donor Program urges state officials to reconsider.
Our direct experience and countless clinical studies demonstrate that marrow transplants are a lifesaving therapy. For nearly 24 years, our program has facilitated more than 40,000 marrow and umbilical cord blood transplants for patients with a range of life-threatening diseases.
For many, it’s the only chance for cure, and failure to receive a transplant often results in prolonged illness that requires continuing high-cost care — and ultimately results in a preventable death.
We recognize the financial constraints facing Arizona and others, but blocking transplants is not the answer. Access to this lifesaving therapy should not depend on residency of the patient.
We urge the federal government to make transplant coverage mandatory for the Medicaid program. This will save countless lives and do more to reduce health care costs than denying care.
Minneapolis, Dec. 3, 2010
The writer, a doctor, is chief executive of the National Marrow Donor Program.
To the Editor:
What a sad state of affairs that in order for the state of Arizona to save a few million dollars, Medicaid recipients are being denied potentially lifesaving transplants. Where is the justified outrage? Have we as a nation lost our humanity? Are our beloved tax cuts more sacred to us than doing what we can to save our citizens?
Malden, Mass., Dec. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
Regarding the decision to stop paying for certain transplants, it appears that Arizona has created a death panel run by state bureaucrats who will make decisions about who gets lifesaving medical treatment and who does not.
This was the nightmare scenario invoked by the Republicans in their opposition to health care reform. Now death panels are real, created by Republicans and aimed at people who cannot afford the high cost of private insurance.
Long Beach, Calif., Dec. 3, 2010
The writer, a lawyer, is manager of litigation services for a risk management company.
To the Editor:
My life was saved by a stem cell transplant — one of the types of transplants cut from Arizona’s Medicaid program — and it has allowed me to continue my work as an orthopedic surgeon.
I fear that this decision in Arizona is just the beginning, and other state Medicaid programs will consider similar harsh changes if they, as expected, suffer cuts under our nation’s deficit reduction program.
To prevent such an outcome, health care providers, including physicians, must be willing to provide services for lower reimbursement. Specialty physicians like me often enjoy incomes approaching $400,000 per year. We can afford to take the lead in making the reasonable sacrifices necessary to ensure the health of our patients.
The alternative is the widespread use of the type of deadly decisions Arizona decided to make.
James B. Rickert
President, The Society for
Patient Centered Orthopedics
Bloomington, Ind., Dec. 7, 2010
To the Editor:
Before any of our senators and representatives are allowed to vote in favor of extending tax breaks for the wealthy, they should be required to meet with Randy Shepherd’s three children and explain to them, face to face, why that money would be better spent on someone with a seven-figure income than on a heart transplant for their father.
Cherry Hill, N.J., Dec. 3, 2010
US health authorities have said that the cholera strain which has killed more than 330 people in Haiti most closely resembles a South Asian strain.
The US Centers for Disease Control found that Haitian cholera patients had all been infected with the same strain.
Haitis health minister said the outbreak was unlikely to have originated in the country.
The UN is investigating allegations that excrement from Nepalese peacekeepers caused the epidemic.
But Health Minister Dr Alex Larsen said it was unlikely the outbreaks origin would ever be known.
When the federal government banned health insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, two of Oregons largest insurers stopped offering child-only policies.
Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and HealthNet were worried parents would only sign-up their kids once they became sick — thus undercutting the premise of insurance.
The states fix is an enrollment window — from November 1st to December 31st — so parents cant wait until illness strikes.
Oregon Insurance Division spokeswoman, Cheryl Martinis, doesnt think the window is too inconvenient.
Cheryl Martinis: Most children are going to have options, even outside these new enrollment periods. We have high risk pools. It would be a twisted set of circumstances that will make it hard for a child not to get insurance.
But the new enrollment window doesnt seem to be enough to make insurers offer child-only policies again.
Samantha Meese is a spokeswoman for Regence BlueCross BlueShield.
Samantha Meese: For a century weve provided health insurance to thousands of children and families in our service area and our experience tell us the best way to provide coverage to those members is through family policies. Therefore we are no longer offering individual policies to applicants under 19, except as part of a family policy.
But the enrollment window hasnt been completely ignored by Blue Cross.
Meese says the company will allow parents who have coverage to enroll their kids during the enrollment times.
Samantha Meese: Regence is going to go ahead and participate in the open enrollment period, and during that time we will not apply any health screening criteria to individuals under the age of 19 on family applications.
These enrollment windows dont apply to most Oregonians, who get their health insurance from their employers.
Oregon Insurance Division spokeswoman Cheryl Martinis estimates a few thousand people need to know about the new restrictions.
Cheryl Martinis: A little over 200,000 people, around 6 percent of all Oregonians have individual policies to begin with. So its a small percentage of that small percentage, who are going to have children, under age 19, who arent already covered.
And she says, in Oregon, kids do have options. For example, they can get coverage through the Oregon Healthy Kids program or through the states high-risk pool.
Insurers also have to accept children whove just been born or adopted or gone through a coverage ending event — like divorce or the death of a family member.
Once this enrollment window closes — at the end of December — another enrollment window is scheduled to open in February.
The process is just one of many steps for implementing the federal healthcare plan. Its aim is that by January 2014, insurers must accept everybody — regardless of health — and in exchange everybody has to buy insurance.
copy; 2010 OPB
WASHINGTON If Rep. Joe Barton becomes the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year, the Texas Republican vows to make life miserable for Democratic defenders of the health care overhaul law.
Hell drag Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Medicare chief Donald Berwick to Capitol Hill for regular grilling. Democrats, he says, essentially have shielded the two key figures from answering tough questions about the new law.
Thats just the beginning. Barton has a list of seven problems he intends to spotlight, including how he thinks that the Obama administration covered up cost estimates of the law before it was enacted, silenced insurers from warning customers about what they thought would be rate increases and spent money on brochures touting improvements to the Medicare Advantage program even though funding is being reduced.
While repealing the new law remains the first order of business for angry Republicans, most acknowledge that its a long shot, considering President Barack Obamas veto power. Still, theyll possess some powerful tools to challenge the law if they win a majority in the House of Representatives as is widely forecast and take over leadership of the committees.
Key Republicans are threatening to withhold funding for the overhauls initiatives and to pursue hearings and oversight investigations in order to challenge administration officials regulations and communications with the public. Committee chairmen have subpoena power, although holding the gavel is usually enough to get officials into the witness chair.
Oversight of the existing law will build a case for full repeal, Barton said. We have to aggressively work to repeal the entire bill. As part of the process, well have very aggressive oversight.
Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, used the Congressional Review Act of 1996 in September to force a vote to kill a key interim health law rule that HHS had issued but not finalized. Republicans argued that the rule would make it nearly impossible for businesses to get grandfathered status, without which theyd be subject to new requirements that could increase their costs.
The effort failed, but Republicans could use the Congressional Review Act again to block the regulation, a Republican congressional aide said. You could have hearings leading up to that regulation and have a lot of people come and testify about what people see as the downside, and have this vote, which could be a major vote, the aide said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because he wasnt authorized to talk on the record.
Barton probably will face a challenge for the top committee spot from Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., but Upton also is pledging intensive oversight of regulations.
In a column Oct. 4 on the conservative website The Daily Caller, Upton wrote: Over 4,100 pages of regulations have been issued since the measure was signed into law, and a dozen new regulations were not even subject to any kind of public scrutiny before taking effect.
As we work to take this bill apart, he added, we cannot allow the administration to take a wide berth on interpreting bad legislation to make it worse.
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