Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Washington projection: 1 million uninsured, $1 billion/yr in uncompensated care by 2011

The number of Washingtonians with no health insurance will soon reach 1 million, according to a new report by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Kreidler also predicts that the cost of uncompensated medical care in the state will reach $1 billion annually by 2011.

“The widespread and growing lack of health insurance in Washington state is hurting families, communities and our state’s economy in ways that we can no longer afford to ignore,” said Kreidler.

The report includes costs, trends, projections and a county-by-county breakdown of the number of uninsured people.

In seven years, the total cost of uncompensated care—uncollected medical debts and charity care by hospitals and other health providers—has increased by over 80 percent from $457 million in 2002 to a projected $830 million by the end of this year.

Many of these costs are quietly passed on to the insured in the form of a hidden tax. According to the report, uncompensated care costs the average insured Washington family $917 a year.

Kreidler added that today, even people with insurance are struggling.

“One in four people with insurance don’t have enough to meet their needs in a medical emergency,” he said. “Half of the uncompensated care costs today are generated by people with insurance – people who are one diagnosis away from bankruptcy.”

In general, rural areas are harder hit. For example, by 2011, the number of uninsured people in King County will reach 14.3 percent. Less-urban areas of Washington will see average uninsured rates of nearly 19 percent.

“An economic recovery will not solve this problem,” said Kreidler. “Even in good times, health care costs continued to rise and so have the numbers of the uninsured and underinsured. We’re at a critical crossroads today. Health care inflation is far outstripping the business and personal-income increases necessary to pay for health care.”

Unusual public tussle between Regence and Swedish over rates

In an unusual move, Regence BlueShield in Washington today issued a press release saying that Swedish Medical Center intended to terminate its contract with Regence if the two couldn't agree on new rates. Under the headline "Swedish Notifies Regence of Intent to Terminate Contract," Regence president Jonathan Hensley is quoted as saying, in part:
Swedish, already known as one of the highest-cost hospital systems in the state, is demanding a 32 percent rate increase over the term of the agreement, an increase that our members – individuals, seniors, small businesses and working families – cannot afford. A 32 percent increase is more than double the amount other hospitals would receive. (Here's a link to the full statement.)
By mid-afternoon, Swedish had issued its own press release, saying that the company was "astonished" to read Regence's version, which it called "a blatant attempt to scare patients." Swedish said "an official termination letter has not been issued, and those covered by Regence are still welcome at Swedish." (Here's that link.)

The public tussle drew yet a third statement, this time from Washington's insurance commissioner, Mike Kreidler:
I am profoundly disappointed at this public announcement at this time, due to the unsettling effect it has on consumers. Giving notice of intent to terminate provider contracts is a normal business practice, and the vast majority of these negotiations end successfully. Making this public in such a way now will unnecessarily alarm consumers and serves no one.

Although I have no direct regulatory authority over the rates that health carriers pay their providers, I fully expect both Regence and Swedish to continue good faith negotiations to resolve this contract dispute for the benefits of all health care consumers.

In the event that Regence and Swedish are unable to come to terms, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner will take all necessary steps to assure that consumers have access to the services covered by their benefit contracts, and that there is an appropriate transition plan for Swedish patients who have Regence BlueShield coverage.

Insurance news: Which cars are the least safe, a great breakdown of the House and Senate health-reform proposals, and the strange saga of the Deer That Attacked the Pennsylvania Insurance Office

USA Today: We saw the news about the safest cars, but which are the least safe? (Hint: Don't get rear-ended in your Hummer H3)

CNN Money: Your options if the 65 percent COBRA subsidy goes away

NY Times: At last: an understandable breakdown of what's in the House and Senate health-care reform proposals. (This is actually very well done, a nice blend of readable, concise, and still a good level of detail.)

Forgot to post this one yesterday: Michigan Messenger: For 12-year-old boy without an arm, insurance has run out (Lifetime maximum benefit of $30k on prostheses means no more artificial arms for the boy)

And now for my pick for the Insurance News Story of the Week: Herd of deer smash through Pittsburgh-area insurance office. Describes "a flash of hooves and fur" and deer smashing through a door, jumping through a window, etc.