For Immediate Release
May 1, 2006
Fact Sheet: Making Health Care More Affordable and Accessible for All Americans
President Discusses Health Care Initiatives
In Focus: Health Care
Today, President Bush Discussed His Comprehensive Strategy To Make Health Care More Affordable And Available For All Americans Through Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Improved Transparency, And Other Innovative Reforms. The Administration is determined to reduce health care costs by pursuing practical, commonsense reforms that will improve quality and increase choice. America leads the world in health care because we believe in a system of private medicine that encourages innovation and change. The best way to reform our health care system is to preserve this system of private medicine, strengthen the relationship between doctors and patients, and make the benefits of private medicine more affordable and accessible.
Our Reforms Are Guided By Two Clear Goals. The first goal is to meet America's obligation to seniors and the poor. The second goal is to make care and coverage more affordable and available for all American families.
The President Is Working To Meet America's Obligation To Seniors And The Poor
Beneficiaries Are Enrolling In The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. Medicare drug coverage enables the typical senior to spend about half of what he or she used to spend on prescription drugs each year. About a third of seniors are eligible for prescription drug coverage that includes little or no premiums, low deductibles, and no gaps in coverage. On average, Medicare will pay for more than 95 percent of the costs of prescription drugs for low-income seniors. More than 30 million people now have prescription drug coverage through the Medicare program, and hundreds of thousands more are signing up each week. The May 15 deadline for seniors to sign up at the lowest cost is approaching, and the President encourages our Nation's medical community to continue getting the word out to seniors about the benefits of this program.
We Are Strengthening Medicaid. Earlier this year, the President signed legislation making it easier for states to offer alternative benefit plans, provide coverage to more people, and design their Medicaid program to meet their needs and budgets.
We Are Expanding Community Health Centers. These centers provide primary health care for the poor, so they do not have to go to hospital emergency rooms for routine care. Since the President took office, the Administration has funded about 800 new or expanded Health Centers – bringing our total to more than 3,700 Health Centers serving more than 13 million Americans a year. Over the next two years, we will fund the opening or expansion of 400 more Health Centers.
We Are Making Medicare And Medicaid Financially Sound. Today, the Medicare and Social Security Trustees release their annual report. Each year, the Trustees remind us that these programs are not structured in a way that they will be financially sound for our children and grandchildren. The good news is that we do not need to cut these programs, but we can save them by restraining the growth in spending to levels we can afford. The President continues to call on Congress to join him in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby-boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
The President Has Five Key Policies To Make Health Care More Affordable And Available For All American Families
1. Expand Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). HSAs lead patients to demand more value for their money by enabling them to control their health care spending.
HSAs Have Two Components: Low-Cost Catastrophic Insurance Coverage And Tax-Free Savings Accounts. Catastrophic coverage provides protection in the event of a devastating medical illness. HSAs allow Americans to contribute to a tax-free account to pay for routine medical needs and to build up savings by rolling over any contributions unspent in a given year. HSAs can help us move our health care system away from one where a third party pays for most of the costs to one where consumers make their own health care decisions.
HSAs Are Making Health Care More Affordable And Accessible. From March 2005 to January 2006, the number of HSAs tripled from 1 million to more than 3 million. Forty percent of those who own HSAs have family incomes below $50,000. More than one-third of those who bought HSAs on their own had previously been uninsured.
HSAs Are Helping American Hospitals. More insured Americans means fewer people arriving at our Nation's hospitals needing uncompensated care.
The President Believes Congress Needs To Give Americans Who Buy HSA Policies On Their Own The Same Tax Breaks As Those Who Get Their Health Insurance From Their Employers. Under current law, the self-employed, the unemployed, and workers at companies that do not provide health insurance are at a great disadvantage. The President also believes Congress should fix the tax code to raise the limit on tax-free contributions to HSAs. In addition, the President has proposed a refundable tax credit to help low-income Americans purchase health coverage on the individual market. Under his proposal, low-income families can receive up to $3,000 in a refundable tax credit to purchase HSA-qualified insurance.
Health Insurers Should Be Allowed To Sell Portable HSA Policies Nationwide. Today, the savings in health accounts are portable, allowing savings accounts to be taken from job to job. However, the health insurance within HSAs is often not portable because of outdated laws and practices that prevent insurers from offering portable policies.
The President Calls On Congress To Move Bills That Improve Tax-Free Health Savings Accounts. These bills will end many of the biases in the tax code, provide a tax credit of up to $3,000 for low-income families, and make HSAs more attractive to millions of Americans.
2. Increase Transparency. To get the best quality care for the best price, patients need to know in advance what their medical options are, the quality and expertise of doctors and hospitals in their area, and what their medical procedure will cost. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt is encouraging leaders in the health care industry to post their "walk-in" prices to all patients, and the President has directed HHS to make data on Medicare's price and quality publicly available on the Internet. The Administration is also asking insurance companies to increase health care transparency by providing their negotiated prices and quality information to their enrollees – and the Federal government will do the same.
To Help Spur This Transparency Revolution, The Administration Will Require Transparency From Insurance Plans Participating In Federal Programs. Beginning this year, the Federal Employees Benefits program and the military's Tricare system are asking contractors to provide price and quality information. The President is also asking hospitals and insurers to make information on prices and quality available to all patients, increasing transparency without the need for legislation from Congress to require transparency by law.
3. Apply Modern Information Technology. Too many doctors' offices and hospitals have the most advanced technology of the 21st century but still use last century's filing systems for managing medical records. A nationwide information network will protect the privacy of a patient's medical information while making health information available in real-time. We are making good progress toward the President's goal that most Americans have an electronic health record by 2014.
4. Enact Association Health Plans (AHPs). Unlike big businesses, small companies cannot negotiate lower health-insurance rates because they cannot spread their risk over a large pool of employees. AHPs would allow small firms to band together across state lines and buy insurance at the same discounts available to big companies. The House has approved AHP legislation four times during the President's Administration, and it is now time for the Senate to pass legislation that makes health insurance more affordable for small businesses.
5. Enact Medical Liability Reform. The glut of frivolous lawsuits are driving good doctors out of practice and driving up costs by forcing many doctors to practice defensive medicine – ordering unnecessary tests and writing unnecessary prescriptions. The total cost of defensive medicine to our society is an estimated $60 billion to $100 billion per year, including $28 billion billed directly to taxpayers through increased costs of Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and other Federal health programs. Junk lawsuits are a national issue requiring a national response. The House has passed a good medical liability reform bill, and it is time for the Senate to act.
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