03 January 2007

CA Health care news

A number of California news outlets covered a new Field Poll that showed that 77 percent of Californians are concerned that they wouldn't be able to cover a major illness or injury. I'd say that's awareness of being underinsured.

The Mercury News led with the finding that "a bare majority of Californians are satisfied with the current system and a large majority worry about what the future might bring."

You can download the Field Poll survey from that Mercury page as well.

Eighty-one percent say the government should ensure that all Californians have access to affordable health care.
About half are satisfied with their coverage; 44 percent aren't satisfied. Note that the findings are based on a random survey of 1,200 California voters. Because more older people vote than younger, I'd guess that Medicare recipients are over-represented in the survey. Because middle and higher income groups vote more than lower income groups; and because minorities vote in smaller percentages than anglos, that would skew these findings as well, probably reflecting a smaller number of Medicaid and uninsured people. Indeed, only 10 percent of respondents said they were uninsured, a smaller percentage than the 14 or 15 percent of Californians who are actually uninsured.

Thirty-nine percent said they were concerned that they or someone close to them will be without health coverage sometime in the near future.

Most said that high drug company profits are to blame for the rising cost of health care; a smaller number named insurance companies and illegal immigrants using emergency rooms. Others cited waste, fraud, inefficiencies, and unhealthy personal habits.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says 2007 is the year of health care. He doesn't mention that it's by default, because he vetoed universal health care in California 2006.

"Pessimism about the health care system was highest among 50- to 64-year-olds, and among those who earn more than $40,000."

In other words, pessimism is highest among the people most likely to be insured, most likely to have lived through the rising costs, most likely to have children who aren't insured, and not yet eligible for Medicare.

The Mercury article also refers to the finding from the New America Foundation, that estimates that a California family of four pays an extra $1,186 a year to subsidize care for the uninsured.

A Jan. 3 Scripps article seems to make the case that this is the reason for the high cost of health care.

Timm Herdt offers an analogy where diners in a restaurant are asked up front for their credit cards. Those who don't have cards eat for free. Pretty soon the people with credit cards are going to figure out that they're subsidizing the freeloaders.
Except that in reality, the folks without credit cards don't show up, and if they do, they're actually charged up to ten times as much for their meal as the people with credit cards. Oh — and the people with credit cards don't ever actually see exactly what the prices are.

It's a lousy analogy, designed to make people with health insurance resent those without.
The article does offer these numbers from the study: "After an 8.7 percent increase in premiums in 2006, the average cost of a family health insurance policy last year was $11,860. Of that cost, the average worker's share was $2,824 and the average employer's share was $9,036."

But then Herdt goes in for the us-against-them: "Calculating the 10 percent hidden tax on the insured means that every California business with 100 employees spent nearly more than $90,000 last year to underwrite medical care for the uninsured."

So he thinks that it's in the clear economic interest of California businesses, 71 percent of which insure their employees, to insist that other businesses do the same.

Forget about the 20-30 percent of that money that's wasted on duplication, obscene profit for insurance executives, and keeping sick people out of the system — a greater drain than the 10 percent "hidden tax."

The Insurance News got that up top:

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Jan 3, 2007 (U.S. Newswire via COMTEX) --Today's finding by the Field Poll that California voters see the high profits of drug and health insurance companies and systemic waste and inefficiency as the top causes of rising health care costs is a warning to elected officials that health care reforms must start by getting insurer costs and premiums under control, said the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

"The poll drives home the fact that until the profits and administrative waste of insurers and HMOs are brought under control, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Senate Leader Don Perata and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot require individuals and employers to buy unaffordable coverage," said Jerry Flanagan, health policy director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan FTCR. "No such mandate can work without reforms to limit overhead and profit. The poll shows that Californians want access to affordable coverage not a mandate to purchase coverage from the private market."

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