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Health Savings Accounts For Poor Tested: Another Well Intended Program To Fail

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

President Bush keeps trying. I do not think he really understands the difference between poverty and unaffordability in America today. If he did his goal would be affordable healthcare insurance for all.

“The popularity of health savings accounts for the poor will be put to the test in Indiana under a program approved Friday by the Bush administration. Under the plan, someone making $20,000 a year could get health coverage for about $19 a week.”

Sounds good. However, the devil is in the details.

“Bush has long pushed health savings accounts as a way to slow the rising cost of medical care and extend basic coverage to the uninsured.

Under the Indiana program,eligible residents can pay up to 5 percent of their incomes into state-subsidized “Personal Wellness and Responsibility Accounts” that cover their initial medical expenses up to $1,100. Once that deductible is reached, private insurance purchased by the state kicks in.”

I have no quarrel so far. I see a few problems and questions. One problem is $1,100 does not get you much health coverage at retail prices. Private health insurance is still in charge of reimbursement and not a partner with the patient. What is the type of healthcare insurance coverage after $1,100? What are the co-pays? Only a few patients will have money remaining in their health savings account. There is nothing mentioned about giving patients incentives to stay well and potentially accumulate money for retirement.
Eligibility is limited to adults with incomes below twice the federal poverty level. The poverty level is now $10,210 for an individual and $20,650 for a family of four.

I looked up the actual eligibility criteria on their web site. I was curious to know if eligibility meant people making $41,300 a year would be qualified for the plan. The answer to this frequently asked question was;
The Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) will provide health insurance for uninsured adult Hoosiers between 19-64 whose household income is between 22 – 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL), who are not eligible for Medicaid. Eligible participants must be uninsured for at least 6 months and cannot be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance.

I was confused after reading this statement because of the absence of definitions. I asked the web site the following question.

Does this mean that people with a family of four making up to $41,300 a year can be eligible for this plan?
This feedback I got was as follows.

“The Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) will provide health insurance for uninsured adult Hoosiers between 19-64 whose household income is between 22 – 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL), who are not eligible for Medicaid. Eligible participants must be uninsured for at least 6 months and cannot be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance.”

The reply did not clarify a thing.

The eligibility limit is better than Medicaid but not as high as necessary to make it affordable. Moises would qualify in Indiana. He does not qualify in Texas. He makes $22,000 per year. An illness would destroy him and his family financially. He can not afford nor does he qualify to buy private insurance as an individual.

The limits for being qualified to receive benefits should be at least $50,000. The benefits packages should be developed by the insurance industry. The deductible must be higher than $1,100. Six thousand dollars is a realistic in order to provide patients with the appropriate incentive. It should be the Ideal Medical Saving Account formulation. It should be bought by citizens through the insurance industry on a competitive basis. It should not be run by the government as a single party payer. It should be subsided by the government for those who qualify for subsides. If the government finds that the insurance industry is taking advantage of patients or providers it should intervene and disqualify that insurance company from participating in the program. Patients of higher income should pay more for insurance than lower income people.

A mechanism for means testing should be developed. People below a certain income should receive government subsidies. Subsides should be regressive with lower income people receiving a higher subsidy than higher income people. The price of the insurance should be affordable and emphasize reward for good health, and prevention of disease. Both patients and providers should receive adequate incentive to achieve this goal. The Ideal Medical Savings Account could include both low income families and high income families. The high income families would pay a means tested surcharge to a certain amount.

“The waiver in Indiana is the first of its kind for the Medicaid program, a state-federal partnership that provides health coverage to the poor and disabled.”

The punishing criteria for eligibility for Medicaid still exist. On close study I have concluded that the Medicaid program is a way the state can obtain a subsidy from the federal government. The criteria for eligibility is simply too restrictive.

“Indiana officials said they’ve already received inquiries from more than 1,000 people interested in applying.
This sound bite implies impending success of the program. I think it is a long way from success.
The program will be monitored closely because of the philosophical divide among lawmakers about the value of health savings accounts for the poor. Many say such accounts work best for healthier and higher-income people with low medical expenses.”

The enemies of Health Savings Accounts have an excuse to react negatively. I believe that most lawmakers do not understand the goal of Health Savings Accounts. They also do not understand that Health Savings Accounts are a bastardize form of Medical Saving Accounts to keep the healthcare insurance industry in control and accumulate unconscionable profits

“Judith Solomon, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said she doubts that many people making $10,000 a year can afford to pay $500 for health insurance. She said that about 50,000 people lost Medicaid coverage in Oregon after that state got permission to raise insurance premiums to $20 a month.”

“You can say it’s better than nothing, but I just don’t see how many of those folks will be able to afford it,” Solomon said.

Judith Solomon is absolutely correct. People making $10,000 dollars can barely afford to put food on the table or a roof over their head. So many well intended programs are built to fail.

“This is a big step forward that will lead to approximately 120,000 uninsured Hoosiers having the peace of mind of health insurance,” said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who once served as Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget.

I believe Governor Daniels should check to see how many of these 120,000 uninsured are living under the poverty level. I would guess less than 50%. It is fun to listen to Governor Daniels’ advertisement. , He makes a false promise and a false hope with false information.
If the state and federal government really wanted to do something they should expand the eligibility level to $50,000 a year. They should subsidize the Ideal Medical Savings Account with the incentive for patients’ to accumulate money in their retirement fund if they spend their healthcare dollars wisely.

Healthcare programs such as the Indiana program continue to appear and are destined to fail. The consumer must force lawmakers to get serious about Repairing The Healthcare System.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” are mine and mine alone.

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

Healthy Indiana Plan:

  • Life Insurance Canada

    Nowadays, insurance companies tend to sell their products easily to those with ailing health. The reason is simple: they know that at some point they will be likely to need the benefits that these policies offer. However, people with middling health tend to be the ones whose financial situation does not really allow them to pay all those premiums. And the insurance companies will have to raise the premiums if they don’t want to go out of business. At the end of the day, a limited number of financially weak individuals will be paying the high premiums they can’t really afford. Those healthy men and women who would be able to pay even higher premiums, will never even think of buying a policy.

  • KGilbert

    I think HSA’s have major drawbacks for the poor and uneducated. There is great incentive for them to save healthcare dollars, but there is a disincentive for them to pay for preventive care. The uneducated will not look at the long term benefits of preventive care, preferring instead to keep the cash. And thus we will continue to incur incredible costs from easily preventable complications of chronic conditions.

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