Most of the major provisions of the health care reform proposals circulating through the halls of Congress won’t take effect until 2013 or later (the major exception being some of the taxes created by the reforms). There’s a huge political problem with that: opponents of the reform will throw every rock, pebble and boulder they can find at the reform package. If voters have to wait three or four years to see any of the benefits of the reforms lawmakers are taking the better part of a year to resolve, they’re going to be sorely disappointed. In fact, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicates that nearly half of the respondents expect to see insurance company reforms take effect within a year.
So it’s not surprising Democrats are searching for ways to implement elements of their reform package as soon as possible – preferably before the November 2010 elections. As Carrier Budoff Brown puts it in a posting on Politico.com, “Democrats are pushing Senate leaders and the White House to speed up key benefits in the health reform bill to 2010, eager to give the party something to show taxpayers for their $900 billion investment in an election year.”
What matters, of course, is what parts of the bill are implemented sooner than later. Starting the taxes right away is critical for making the financial numbers work. Yet they are likely to increase medical costs (and, consequently, insurance premiums) in the near term. Some provisions, like requiring carriers to allow families to cover young adults until they reach age 26 offer little downside. The same with creating a fund to cover catastrophic claims of early retirees (those aged 55-through-64) who receive coverage their employer. Requiring health care companies (for example insurers and hospitals) to be more transparent in reporting their costs may embarrass some companies and force them to quickly set up reporting processes, but are won’t harm the system overall. These are some of the items the Politico.com post identifies as under consideration.
What would be damaging is requiring carriers to guarantee issue individual health insurance coverage (accept all applicants regardless of their health conditions) in 2010 while delaying the mandate on individuals to obtain coverage. As I’ve written about frequently, an imbalance between requiring carriers to sell and consumers to buy health insurance will price the cost of health insurance beyond the means of many Americans.
Moving the benefits of health care reform forward makes political sense without abusing common sense. If it’s done the right way. Whether lawmakers will have the patience to find that way, is still uncertain, but they appear to be making the effort.