State of the Union Speech Offers Health Insurance Insights
President Obama made eight references to health insurance in his first annual State of the Union Address delivered on January 27, 2010. This article highlights the President's comments and may help give insight into what federal actions may impact health insurance over the coming year.
The President began the discussion of health insurance with a positive comment reminding us of the government's principle health insurance accomplishment stating that his administration, "Made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA." The government does not know exactly how many people have been helped by the COBRA subsidy program, but a benefits consultant, quoted by The Wall Street Journal, recently estimated the number as 3 million to 4 million people. Far fewer people elected to participate in the COBRA subsidy program than was originally estimated. The program was extended into 2010, but premium subsidies are likely to end at the end of each participant's current benefit period.
The President continued by laying out reasons for further action, "It is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform," and real-life examples, "I've heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who've been denied coverage; and families--even those with insurance--who are just one illness away from financial ruin." These statements seem obvious and acceptable without any possibility of generating controversy.
He mentioned the insurance industry twice as a villain, "Protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry," and, "Stop insurance company abuses." While this topic is an easy political target and consensus-builder, it is hard to believe that the President's administration views this issue as a national priority. A recent article on this Web site estimated the number of cases nationwide falling into this abusive category are less than 2,000 per year.
The President repeated prior reassurances to those who appreciate the current health insurance system and want to preserve their current health care options, "It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market." He repeated the promise to, "Preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan."
The only relatively new idea mentioned tonight was to, "Require every insurance plan to cover preventive care." This is an attractive concept, but today's insurance buyers indicate a strong preference for lower cost policies, including high deductible and mini-med policies that exclude preventative benefits. Insurance plans that include preventative benefits, which are also more expensive, continue to lose market share. Public resistance can be expected to hinder any legislative proposal that would raise premium rates by mandating additional policy benefits.
The last references were more somber with a statement for dramatic effect saying that during the time the speech was given, "More Americans will have lost their health insurance." Apparently the point is to say that the situation may get worse before it gets better. The President finalized his comments on health insurance with a reminder of the goal to, "Cover the uninsured."
The President's speech completely avoided the most controversial health insurance topics, including the individual insurance mandate, coverage for immigrants, and the public health care option. Overall, it seemed clear that President Obama has scaled down his previous plans to push health care reform as a national priority. While the federal government is clearly aware of the health insurance difficulties faced by American consumers, it appears as if little additional action may follow in the near future.