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Report: States Take Initiative to Provide Health Care

By Adam Bloedorn, CQ Staff

August 15, 2007 -- With health care costs on the rise and almost 45 million Americans lacking insurance, many states have proposed initiatives to increase health care coverage for their residents and lower premiums, according to a report released Wednesday from the National Governors Association (NGA).

In 2005, the United States spent more on health care than any other industrialized nation—nearly $6,700 per person—but ranked lowest in the quality of care provided, the report said. States are taking broad approaches to overhauling health care, including increasing coverage through expanding public programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), creating small business incentives and premium incentive programs to aid workers in purchasing employer-sponsored health insurance, and establishing participation requirements to encourage employers and individuals to obtain health insurance. States also are attempting to improve quality of care and increase prevention and wellness programs, the report states.

The NGA report points to several state programs already in progress that address these issues. For instance, Illinois' All Kids program expands public health programs to include all children in the state who have been without health insurance for at least 12 months, while a similar program in Wisconsin provides enhanced benefits for pregnant women.

Several states have instituted programs to aid small businesses, which often are unable to offer affordable health insurance due to prohibitive costs. Oklahoma and New York offer subsidized plans that require businesses with 50 or fewer workers to contribute a percentage of employee premiums, according to the report.

In Utah, low-income individuals who are eligible for insurance through their employer but cannot afford the premiums can receive up to $150 a month and an additional $100 per child. Texas also has instituted a similar program.

Massachusetts and Vermont both require employers to offer insurance or pay a portion of their employees' premiums. Businesses in Vermont also are assessed a $365 annual fee per full-time employee if any employees remain uninsured.

Another tactic some New England states have employed to lower costs is requiring individuals to obtain health insurance if they can afford it, thereby spreading risk for insurance companies across a larger group.

Ensuring quality of care has been a priority for several states. Washington State has implemented health records banks to aid caregivers across the state and has sought to give patients more information about treatment options, with the goal being to drive down health care costs.

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