Affordable health care through more flexible insurance - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Affordable health care through more flexible insurance

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Posted: Saturday, February 28, 2009 8:37 pm | Updated: 1:34 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Glenn Hamer: Reducing the number of uninsured Arizonans is a serious policy issue for business.

Reducing the number of uninsured Arizonans is a serious policy issue for business.

Because federal law requires hospitals to render care in emergency situations regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, and because government insurance programs pay hospitals less than it costs to provide services, providers pass those costs along to businesses and individuals with private insurance.

Employers, therefore, have a vested interest in policies that reduce the number of uninsured.

Arizona has one of the highest rates of uninsured individuals in the country. The most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that almost 1.3 million Arizonans, or 20 percent of the entire population, lack any form of health insurance.

The average cost for private insurance in Arizona is $4,386 for single coverage and $11,617 for family coverage, according to a recent survey. The average income is just over $37,000.

Several policy actions must occur in order to bring down the cost. One of these is to reduce the number of benefit mandates on insurance policies.

Currently, Arizona law prescribes about 30 mandates that must be covered on insurance policies. Each mandate — no matter how well-intentioned — drives up the cost of insurance. As the cost increases, insurance becomes more expensive and fewer people are able to afford private insurance coverage.

There is a simple remedy that will help to bring down costs and bring insurance coverage into reach for more Arizonans. In 2006, the Legislature passed a law that allowed for small business groups to purchase insurance products that do not cover all of the Arizona mandates. There are plenty of mandates that not every customer desires or needs, such as metabolic foods or maternity coverage for the natural mother of an adopted child. This mandate-light proposal has helped make additional, affordable insurance options available to the small group market.

Rep. Tom Boone, R-Peoria has introduced House Bill 2324, which expands the mandate-light option to uninsured individual insurance purchasers. Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, has introduced a similar measure, Senate Bill 1325. Less expensive insurance products, tailored to the needs of consumers, will increase affordability and reduce the number of uninsured Arizonans.

As Arizona’s economy weakens, it is even more critical for affordable insurance to be available.

This is the right time to expand the choices available to consumers looking to purchase health insurance. Consumers would still be able to buy a full policy with all the bells and whistles. HB 2324 and SB 1325 would enable uninsured consumers, including those who have lost a job or whose employer no longer offers insurance, to purchase a more affordable plan. This legislation is an important part of the solution to reducing the number of uninsured Arizonans.

Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of

Commerce and Industry.

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