Elizabeth Warren Lays Out Plan To Hold Health Insurers Accountable

WASHINGTON ― In a speech into a liberal health policy summit on Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Proposed new guidelines to force private insurers to be more receptive to Americans’ healthcare needs.

Warren spoke at the annual gathering of the consumer advocacy group Families USA. She emphasized that she wholeheartedly supports efforts to expand public health insurance programs, including a “single-payer” bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) That would expand Medicare to the entire population.

However, in the meantime, Warren stated, the federal government needs to impose new standards on private insurers to build on the achievements of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

“Personal insurance companies are failing the American men and women. We all know this,” Warren stated. “And whatever public alternatives you support, there’s absolutely no reason in the world for us to continue enabling the healthcare of the American people to be held hostage by an industry that both strikes any new healthcare proposals and, at precisely the same time, refuses to do any better. ”

Warren’s speech laid out a three-part strategy to rein in insurance companies: Crack down on the practice of shifting costs onto customers; force private insurers to provide coverage as cheap as Medicare and Medicaid; and “call their bluff” if they resist complying with the first two planks.

For the first element, Warren would prohibit insurance practices she dubbed “deceive[ing] individuals,” including drawing narrow bounds for the community of healthcare providers they insure and rescinding coverage of certain medications in the center of the year.

In the second part, Warren would topic private insurers to stricter cost and quality guidelines in order to achieve parity with Medicare and Medicaid. The senator noted that Medicare and Medicaid offer much better value to customers, covering 84 cents for each dollar of health costs, compared to private exchange programs, which are inclined to cover 60 to 70 cents for each dollar of costs.

The next board, which is effectively Warren’s enforcement mechanism, is probably the most innovative idea.

Borrowing from a model in place in New York, Warren suggests requiring private insurers that bid on Medicare Advantage or Medicaid contracts to participate in the ACA exchanges.

Private insurers have lost money in their ACA exchange programs, however theyrsquo;t profited handsomely from their participation in Medicaid and Medicare Advantage.  

“Should they want to bid on the really juicy federal healthcare contracts, they ought to have to offer you a basic private insurance coverage for individuals too, even if those exchange programs aren’t really as juicy due to their own investors,” Warren stated. “And if a few insurance companies actually, genuinely aren’t willing to provide high quality, cheap coverage available for billions of dollars in federal subsidies and access to Medicare and Medicaid ― if they really, truly want to pick up their toys and go home since their bazillion-dollar gains aren’t large enough ― then I say good riddance. ”

The Families USA conference is often the site of major policy announcements by probably presidential contenders. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) Utilized his 2007 speech into the team to show his vision for universal healthcare.

Warren is considered a major contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg/Getty Pictures
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a three-part strategy to rein in insurance companies.

Defending the ACA has been a priority of innovative lawmakers and activists for much of 2017. Their efforts succeeded in scuttling many Republican attempts to repeal the law’s essential components.

However, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have continued to undermine the ACA’s protections, most recently by using their tax legislation to end the individual insurance policy mandate. And even prior to the most recent sabotage attempts, the landmark healthcare law had still left 28 million Americans uninsured and millions more underinsured.

So the progressive wing of the Democratic Party along with the possible presidential candidates who claim its mantle have now set their sights on more ambitious reform notions which they may apply if the party retakes the White House at 2020. All these lawmakers and activists maintain the ACA’s largest vulnerabilities are rooted in its own relatively conservative attempt to achieve universal coverage over the bounds of the private insurance system.

Sanders, whose 2016 presidential bid vaulted single-payer to the political mainstream, held a reside digital city hall about “Medicare for all” on Tuesday that drew more than 1 million viewers in real time.

Warren, a battle-scarred Wall Street foe widely considered the most progressive sitting senator following Sanders, is apparently trying to make her own mark on healthcare policy.  

Her speech to Families USA highlighted her own rhetorical style and policy emphases.   She started with a profoundly personal anecdote ― the kind Sanders tends to eschew ― about how, when she was a child, her family has been permanently set back financially due to expenses related to her father’s heart attack.

As a former law professor whose research found that medical bills were a leading cause of household bankruptcies, Warren is much more interested in the particulars of technocratic fixes into the ACA than are many Medicare-for-all warriors like Sanders. On Thursday, she rattled off statistic after statistic demonstrating the achievement of the Massachusetts health model, such as the fact that it has   “the second-lowest premiums from the ACA marketplace of any state in the nation. ”

Warren’s rhetorical balance is likely to please a number of the influential policy wonks and liberal leaders uncomfortable with what they view as Medicare-for-all advocates’ vagueness about how to achieve their dream system.

At precisely the same time, Warren, like her more populist counterparts, makes clear that she views the profit rationale as the best obstacle to universal coverage.

“Why can’t middle class households get good coverage at an affordable price? ”  Warren.

“The reason is simple: gains,” she reasoned. “A private insurance company maximizes its profits by earning the most money possible from clients and paying the least money possible for their healthcare. ”


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