January/February 2007

Coalition Aims to Reduce Numbers of Uninsured

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Representatives of organizations in the Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured watched as Kevin Lofton spoke to reporters and policymakers at a January 18 media briefing that introduced a plan to expand coverage to many of the nation’s uninsured people.

Most of the nation’s largest health care organizations announced that they have agreed on a proposal to significantly expand health coverage for the nearly 47 million uninsured individuals in the U.S., starting immediately with expanded coverage for children. The Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured (HCCU) is comprised of 16 national organizations that play influential roles in federal health policy debate, often on opposing sides. Despite their divergent views, the member organizations of HCCU have committed to jointly press lawmakers to act on the group’s two-phased proposal. “The women and men working in America’s hospitals see firsthand the consequences of having no insurance. Too often, people without health insurance depend on the local emergency department as their family doctor,” said Kevin Lofton, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health Initiatives and chair of the American Hospital Association. “The end result is that uninsured patients live with illness until it becomes much worse, often seriously so. We know that there is a better way and believe this agreement marks a significant step toward expanding health coverage to those who have none.” With Congress scheduled to consider reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in the coming months, the HCCU proposal could have an immediate impact. The proposal’s first phase is a “Kids First Initiative” that would allow parents to more easily enroll their children in public programs like SCHIP and Medicaid. It calls for a “one-stop shopping” system in which low-income families could enroll children in SCHIP or Medicaid at the same time they apply for other public programs, such as reduced-cost lunches or food stamps. The proposal would provide states with the additional funds needed to enroll eligible children. HCCU members believe this could help up to six million uninsured children who are eligible for, but not enrolled in, public insurance programs. The proposal also calls for a new tax credit to help eligible families cover some of the cost of providing private health insurance for their children; and a competitive grant program to enable states to experiment with new, innovative approaches to expanding health coverage. The proposal’s second phase focuses on uninsured adults. It would give states the flexibility and funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to cover all adults with incomes below the federal poverty level, millions of whom are currently ineligible for public coverage. For those with higher incomes, between 100 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level, a refundable, advanceable tax credit would be established to help cover the cost of private insurance. HCCU’s participating organizations include the American Association of Retired Persons; America’s Health Insurance Plans; American Academy of Family Physicians; American Hospital Association; American Medical Association; American Public Health Association; Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association; Catholic Health Association; Families USA; Federation of American Hospitals; Healthcare Leadership Council; Johnson & Johnson; Kaiser Permanente; Pfizer; United Health Foundation; and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. More information is available at www.coalitionfortheuninsured.org.

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(From left) Charles Rangel (D-NY), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, met with Kevin Lofton; Rich Umbdenstock, president, American Hospital Association; Rick Pollack, executive vice president, American Hospital Association; and Patti Goldman, senior associate director of federal relations, American Hospital Association, on January 18 in Washington, D.C.