Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee: Thank you for inviting me to share my views on health insurance markets and health care reform. The views I express are mine alone and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.
Current health insurance markets suffer from many shortcomings. I'm going to focus my remarks on three that I believe are central, and what I think we might be able to do under reform to address them. First the private insurance system is a voluntarily one for both employers and insurers, but too often those who would like to buy coverage face significant barriers to doing so, including lack of affordability and discrimination based on health status. These barriers contribute to the growing population of uninsured. Second, private health insurance markets are not very organized, making it difficult for individuals and employers to effectively compare options based on price, benefits, and quality of service. The lack of cohesive information on comparability of plan options limits the ability of purchasers to make cost-effective choices for their coverage.
Third, there is little competition between insurers, a consequence of a substantial amount of consolidation among insurers and health care providers in recent years. With little incentive on the part of large consolidated providers to negotiate over price with insurers, and insurers with large market shares being able to pass on these costs to purchasers while continuing to increase their own profits, rapid growth in insurance premiums is fueled.
I believe that comprehensive health care reform will be necessary to address these problems. Insurance market reforms and subsidies to make coverage affordable for the modest-income population within the context of a more organized health insurance market are essential strategies. A health insurance exchange can be developed to organize the insurance market and to provide guidance and oversight in achieving reform goals. Making a public health insurance plan option available to purchasers can further promote competition in insurance markets and could be an effective strategy for slowing health care cost growth.
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