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Report: Change the System to Cover Millions, Save Billions

MAY 23, 205 -- A series of changes to the nation's health care system could provide health care coverage to the 45 million Americans who do not now have it while trimming billions off the nation's health care bill, according to a report released Monday by the National Coalition on Health Care.

The group, a non-partisan alliance of more than 90 organizations, found that system-wide savings would begin soon after the changes were phased in and by the tenth year would save $125 billion annually.

The proposed changes include requiring employers to provide health care insurance for their workers, supplemented with a requirement that individuals are enrolled in health care coverage. Expansion of current public health insurance program, such as the State Children's Health Insurance Program, was another proposal, along with creating a new targeted public program, such as one modeled on the current Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan. Establishing a "universal publicly financed program" would also provide coverage while lowering health care costs, the commission found.

Emory University professor Kenneth E. Thorpe said that employers who provide coverage now and the employees who receive it would save if such changes were made. Employers would save at least $195 billion per year a decade after such changes were made while employees collectively would save at least $40 billion. Annual savings would grow each subsequent year.

Cost savings would be achieved through a variety of ways, Thorpe said, such as reductions in administrative costs, accelerated use of automated patient safety and error reporting systems, and controls on provider payments and premiums to assure a target rate of growth.

Coalition President Dr. Henry E. Simmons said rising health care costs "is no longer just a health care issue. It is now a major economic problem" because such costs are a drag on economic growth, cutting into operating margins and reducing firms' ability to grow by investing in research, capital spending, product development and marketing.

S. Gary Snodgrass, executive vice president and chief human resources officer of Exelon Corp., a New Jersey electric and gas utility, said his firm's firm health care costs had increased by more than 70 percent from 2001–2004, even as current workers and retirees were asked to pay more toward the cost of their health benefits. If gasoline had risen by the same amount, Snodgrass noted, "we'd be paying $2.89 a gallon for regular gasoline."

Such increases must cease, he said. "We cannot afford to write blank checks indefinitely for health care benefits," Snodgrass said.

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