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Report: Establishing a National Health Exchange Would Help Insure All Americans

By Emily Stephenson, CQ Staff

June 11, 2009 -- A national health insurance exchange and policies to help individuals find coverage would create a more patient-centered health care system, sponsors of a new report said Thursday.

The Commonwealth Fund and Consumers Union held a lunch briefing Thursday to highlight policy changes they said would lead to consistent, high-quality care for the nearly 46 million Americans without health insurance.

The report recommends establishing a mixed public-private insurance system, creating a national insurance exchange to help individuals find coverage, requiring employers to offer or contribute to coverage and mandating universal coverage for all Americans.
Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, which issued the report, said individuals struggling with affording insurance and care are too often forgotten in the political fight over how to change the health care system.

"The one voice that we haven't heard from the voice of the American consumer," Davis said.

Sara Collins, the Commonwealth Fund's assistant vice president for the Program on the Future of Health Insurance, said an additional 25 million Americans don't have sufficient insurance to cover all medical needs, and women and older adults, in particular, often experience problems with access and paying bills.

Catherine Howard of San Francisco, Calif., spoke at the briefing about her struggle with insurance coverage and high health care costs. Howard, 46, said she worked as a documentary filmmaker in 2004 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had insurance, but it didn't pay for all of her treatments. When she had her first surgery, she had to write a check for $3,000, she said.
Howard has a more traditional job now and employer-provided insurance, but she said she owes $40,000 in medical bills.

"Unfortunately, their stories aren't that unusual," said DeAnn Friedholm, health reform director for Consumers Union.

About 30 minutes into the event a protestor objecting to cutting health care spending disrupted the briefing, interrupting a presentation from Neera Tanden, senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Health Reform. She later quipped: "We appreciate that the health crisis is an issue about which people feel passionately—super passionately."

Tanden said Thursday's event is an effective way to communicate to the public the Obama administration's commitment to lowering costs and improving the quality of health care.

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