Washington, D.C. — Most of the nation´s largest health care organizations today announced that they have agreed on a proposal that would significantly expand health coverage for America´s almost 47 million uninsured, starting immediately with expanded coverage for children in 2007. Calling itself the Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured (HCCU), the group is made up of 16 influential, national organizations that have played leading roles in every federal health policy debate of the last 30 years, often on opposing sides. Despite their divergent political and ideological views, the groups today committed to immediately and jointly press lawmakers to act on their historic, two-phased consensus proposal.The agreement includes a balance of private and public initiatives and is the culmination of lengthy meetings among the groups over approximately two years. It allows the new Congress to begin its work on health coverage from a proposal that already has the agreement of diverse advocates.
"This historic agreement transcends traditional political and ideological boundaries to break the gridlock about expanded health coverage for the uninsured," said Ron Pollack, executive director, Families USA. "Our unprecedented agreement and coalition should serve as a model for Congress and the President to see that health coverage is expanded to as many people as possible as quickly as possible — starting with America´s children this year."
HCCU participating organizations include AARP, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, America´s Health Insurance Plans, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Catholic Health Association, Families USA, Federation of American Hospitals, Healthcare Leadership Council, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Pfizer Inc., United Health Foundation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Reaching consensus is a long and sometimes difficult process, but every participating group put the interests of America´s uninsured first — even when doing so meant walking away from certain long-held positions," said Scott P. Serota, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association president and CEO. "With such divergent political ideologies, it is unprecedented for these groups to have a joint agreement. Helping the millions of Americans who do not have health insurance is an issue that needs to transcend politics and partisanship, and that is why we worked together to give Congress a starting point that we can all support."
With Congress scheduled to consider the reauthorization of the State Children´s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in the coming months, the proposal could have an immediate impact. Its first phase is a "Kids First Initiative" to allow parents to more easily enroll their children in public programs, like SCHIP and Medicaid. It calls for a "one-stop shopping" system whereby low-income families could enroll uninsured children in SCHIP or Medicaid at the same time as they apply for other public programs, like reduced-cost lunches or food stamps. The proposal would provide states with the additional funds needed to enroll eligible children. HCCU members believe this could help up to six million uninsured children who are eligible for, but not enrolled in, public insurance programs.
The proposal also calls for a new tax credit to help families cover some of the cost of providing private health insurance for their children. Eligible families could earn up to three times the federal poverty level (about $60,000 annually for a family of four). The tax credits would be refundable and advanceable.
The HCCU organizations also propose a competitive grant program to enable states to experiment with new, innovative approaches to expand health coverage.
The second phase of the coalition´s proposal focuses on uninsured adults. It would give states the flexibility and funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to cover all adults with incomes below the federal poverty level, millions of whom are currently ineligible for public coverage. For those with higher incomes between 100 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level, a refundable, advanceable tax credit would be established to help individuals cover the costs of private insurance.
Census figures show more than one in seven Americans were uninsured in 2005. Studies show the uninsured are often unable to receive the primary and preventive care that they need. The Institute of Medicine estimates approximately 18,000 people die each year from diseases that would have been treatable or preventable if they had health coverage.
A number of other organizations worked closely with the coalition throughout its deliberation process, including the Heritage Foundation, National Association of Counties, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association and Project HOPE.
The HCCU Consensus-Building process was organized and conducted as a project of Search for Common Ground-U.S. Consensus Council, in partnership with the Meridian Institute. The organizations fashioned a unique approach for bringing diverse organizations together on public policy issues. The Economic and Social Research Institute and the Lewin Group provided research and analytical support.
Funding for the coalition´s work was provided by the participating organizations, with additional support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ascension Health, the Rapoport Foundation, The Colorado Health Foundation and The California Endowment.
The HCCU consensus agreement, as well as additional information about HCCU is available at www.coalitionfortheuninsured.org.