Local View Column: Congress can support health plans’ efforts to improve affordability
Most conversations on health care, including those among policymakers and everyday patients, inevitably focus on cost. It is no secret that health care costs are on the rise as prescription-drug prices continue to skyrocket and patients and their families worry more and more about surprise medical bills.
Given these concerns, it is essential for Congress to take meaningful action that recognizes and builds on current efforts of the health care community to improve the affordability of care.
Prescription-drug costs have unsurprisingly become a top priority for members of Congress and the health care community. Thankfully, there has been a demonstrated commitment to addressing this issue from health plans in Minnesota. Beyond policy efforts, some plans are taking immediate action to ensure their beneficiaries can afford life-saving medications. Consider recently announced initiatives by health plans in Minnesota that cap insulin costs for patients. The insurer will take on the cost of the spending cap for thousands of patients, hugely benefiting families which cannot afford to keep up with the rising cost of this essential medication.
Policymakers should not take a back seat to these and other ongoing efforts by health plans and their community partners to lower health care costs. There are several pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Congress that, if passed, would make meaningful progress toward reducing health care costs — and with the best interests of patients and consumers in mind.
One of these policies is the Health Insurance Tax Relief Act of 2019. There is widespread support among patients, employers, and the health care community to delay the annual multibillion-dollar tax on health insurance coverage. Passage of this bill would provide immediate and substantial financial relief for the most vulnerable communities, including seniors, small business owners, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
Not all policy proposals aimed at improving the affordability of health care are reactionary in nature. Congress can be more proactive in its efforts to build on what the health care community is doing to lower costs, as seen in the State Health Care Premium Reduction Act. This bill would provide reinsurance payments to states to help reduce premiums and out-of-pocket costs for patients enrolled in individual health plans. If successful, this bill would represent a significant step forward in the push to make health care more affordable.
When combined with preventive-care benefits that incentivize healthy habits and encourage patients to stay on top of their health, these policies would go a long way toward reducing both short-term and long-term costs while maintaining access to the quality care that patients expect from their providers.
The health care community in Minnesota is on the side of the patient. Congress should be, too. Thankfully, several members of our congressional delegation, including U.S. Reps. Angie Craig and Pete Stauber, have shown a bipartisan commitment to lowering health care costs by supporting policies like reinsurance and the health insurance tax delay. More members of the U.S. Congress should recognize the importance of sensible health care policy reforms that reduce patient costs.
Ultimately, affordability is what patients truly need — and deserve.
Bob Stein is chairman of the legislative committee for the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters (emahu.org), which is based in Mendota Heights. Marie Bell is the association’s immediate past president.