AHIP President Hopes That’s Light In The Tunnel

WASHINGTON BUREAU — The health insurance industry has agreed to give the Obama administration detailed data on what a health reform bill must do to reduce the skyrocketing cost of health care.

The data will be available “very shortly,” a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, said today.

AHIP President Karen Ignagni promised to provide the data Wednesday during AHIP’s annual National Policy Forum.

She made her comments after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told health insurers that continued health insurance industry opposition to health reform and continued escalation of premiums will ultimately hurt the industry.

In response, Ignagni said she hoped that providing the data and Sebelius’s appearance will mark the “beginning of a change” in the tone of the health reform debate.

In comments at the conference Tuesday, Ignagni had decried the “vilification rather than problem solving” that now marks the debate over health reform legislation.

In her comments, Sebelius said that opposition to the Democratic legislation “won’t work in the long run for the American people or our healthcare system.”

Her concern, she said, is that if insurers continued to oppose Democrats’ health legislation, premium increases would continue and more small businesses would drop health coverage for their employees.

“You can continue your opposition to reform,” Sebelius said. “If you do, and reform goes down to defeat, we know what will happen.”

In response, Ignagni said after Sebelius’ comments that “insurers have been concerned that the current legislation will make the current system more expensive and not more affordable.”

Her specific concern is that health coverage mandates in the current versions of health reform legislation do not provide enough incentives to buy health insurance are not strong enough.

If enough young, healthy individuals choose not to buy insurance, “the people in the pool will be the oldest ones and the ones with the highest health problems,” Ignagni said.

At the same time, the White House issued a memorandum to all government departments calling for them to use “payment recapture audits” designed to curb waste and fraud, presumably primarily in the Medicare and Medicaid system.

This would give incentives to private auditors to examine government payments and report fraud to the agencies.

This was designed to adopt a key Republican proposal on health reform, curbing fraud and abuse in government programs.

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