The latest estimates from the National Coalition on Health Care (www.nchc.org/facts/coverage.shtml) show that 46 million Americans—nearly 16% of the population—have no health insurance, and those numbers are increasing. The federal government has been flirting with addressing this growing problem for years, but 2007 may be the turning point, when key legislation may help turn the rising tide of uninsured and underinsured patients.
“A couple of things create a more favorable milieu for this,” explains Eric Siegal, MD, regional medical director, Cogent Healthcare, Madison, Wis., and chair of SHM’s Public Policy Committee. “The first is that Massachusetts did it on their own—states are no longer waiting for Congress to do something. The second is that, with every passing year, there’s increased pressure to do something.”
Regardless of why this is happening now, some promising legislation has been introduced in Congress that may provide the beginnings of a solution.
The Health Partnership Act
Perhaps the most promising legislation on healthcare access is an innovative, bipartisan, bicameral effort known as the Health Partnership Act, which proposes a federal-state partnership to address the issue.
Identical bills have been introduced in each house. The Health Partnership Act (S. 325) was introduced in the Senate by Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and the Health Partnership Act through Creative Federalism (HR 506) was introduced in the House by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Price (R-Ga.), and John Tierney (D-Mass.). Similar legislation was introduced by some of these same parties in the last Congress; though the bill died before action was taken, it was immediately reintroduced in the new Congress this January.
If enacted, the Health Partnership Act would give state and local governments the opportunity to implement their own solutions for providing coverage to uninsured populations, allowing them to address the unique needs that exist within their boundaries. Interested states, groups of states, or even parts of states would apply for five-year federal grants by submitting proposals that demonstrate how their plans would reduce the number of uninsured and improve healthcare quality. Each plan would include information on the appropriate use of information technology to improve the availability of evidence-based medical and outcomes data to providers and patients.