One week after their defeat on managed-care reform, insurers turned again to the issue they hope will salvage their images: lowering the number of uninsured Americans.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, which in January introduced a plan to help the uninsured, hosted a press briefing that stressed the need to spread the word about affordable insurance options that plans already offer.
"About 19 million of the uninsured have incomes of 200% or more of the federal poverty level," said Leonard Schaeffer, chairman and chief executive officer of WellPoint Health Networks in Woodland Hills, Calif., which operates Blue Cross of California. "They don't have any data that say insurance is affordable, so they think it's too expensive for them."
The Health Insurance Association of America has teamed with longtime policy rival Families USA and five other groups to hold a conference on the uninsured. The conference, set for January in Washington, pairs Families USA, a proponent of managed-care reform, with the HIAA, a big reform opponent.
Each participating group will present a proposal describing how to tackle the uninsured problem. Others involved include the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the Service Employees International Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce isn't waiting until January to discuss the uninsured.
HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, recently headlined a chamber-assembled seminar on the uninsured. Shalala touted President Clinton's recently announced plan to beef up child enrollment in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program by using the school system to find and enroll eligible children.
As insurers and others talked about how to fix the problem, more data describing the uninsured phenomenon came to light. The Center for Studying Health System Change, a Washington-based group funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, last week released a study showing that 20% of the nation's uninsured have declined health coverage offered to them by employers. Most of those working uninsured said the premiums offered were too expensive.