SOURCE: National Business Group on Health

January 30, 2008 11:10 ET

National Business Group on Health Embraces Individual Health Insurance Mandate

Employer Group Identifies Principles Needed to Reform U.S. Health Care System

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - January 30, 2008) - Saying it is a vital element to reforming the nation's health care system, the National Business Group on Health announced today that it would support efforts to require individuals to have health insurance coverage for themselves and their dependent children. However, the long-term affordability of health insurance coverage -- workable health reform -- depends on addressing cost, quality and access challenges simultaneously.

The National Business Group on Health (NBGH), a non-profit association representing nearly 300 large U.S. employers, also believes that the current favorable tax treatment of employer-sponsored health care coverage is a key reason that so many people have affordable coverage through their employers and it should not be modified. Rather, individuals who purchase health insurance on their own should receive the same tax advantages. The NBGH opposes any mandates that would force employers to offer health coverage that many companies voluntarily provide even in a tough and increasingly globally, more competitive economy.

"With health costs continuing to rise, a weak economy and the number of uninsured Americans growing at an alarming pace, the need to reform our health care system is at an all-time high," said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. "Achieving successful health reform, however, is a tremendous challenge that will require individuals, health care providers, insurers, employers and governments at all levels to take on shared responsibility. No one group can or should bear full responsibility."

The NBGH's principles on national health care reform are contained in a toolkit approved by its Board of Directors. The toolkit contains more than 20 essential principles that the NBGH believes are necessary to improve health care affordability, quality and safety, reduce health care costs, and expand access to health care services.

One of the NBGH's key principles for national health reform is that every adult should be required to have health coverage for themselves and their dependent children. The NBGH outlined several conditions that would be needed to make this possible including giving individuals under age 65 access to a range of affordable coverage choices through employers, federal or state governments, insurers, or other pooling arrangements.

"Requiring individual coverage will provide protection from catastrophic financial loss for people who feel they are healthy and are more likely to take the risk of not having insurance, but who subsequently develop a serious illness, injury or chronic condition," said Darling. "And, requiring individual coverage will strengthen and stabilize health insurance risk pools by including more healthy people currently without coverage."

While supporting an individual mandate, the NBGH opposes any mandates that would require employers to either offer health coverage to workers or pay the government. "Our research confirms that employees greatly value health benefits so to be competitive most employers willingly provide health coverage. More would do it if there were more affordable options.

"Mandating employers to offer coverage or requiring them to pay the government is very harmful to working families and our economy because it will only force employers to eliminate jobs, move more jobs offshore, stunt future job growth, or raise consumer prices," says Darling. "Instead, we believe that states and the federal government should work together with health plans, employers and other stakeholders to develop low cost, voluntary programs that would cover working families with low or moderate incomes, and programs that would help small employers offer health coverage to their employees."

Other key principles highlighted by the NBGH include:

--  Maintain tax treatment of employer-sponsored coverage - The NBGH
    opposes capping or eliminating the current tax exclusion for employer
    contributions to health benefits.  The current tax treatment encourages
    employers to offer and employees to obtain coverage.  Additionally, the
    NBGH believes people who purchase insurance on their own should enjoy the
    same tax advantages as people who obtain coverage through their employer.
    
--  Encourage employee responsibility - Studies have shown that the more
    patients are engaged in decisions about their treatment and the more
    responsibility they take for their own health, the more satisfied they are
    and the cost of their care decreases.  The NBGH believes coverage should
    encourage people to be good consumers of health care, just as they are with
    other goods and services.
    
--  Preserve and strengthen ERISA - In addition to supporting the federal
    framework of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the NBGH
    opposes federal waivers for state health reform.  While states can and
    should plan an important role in expanding coverage, they should not be
    allowed to regulate employer-sponsored benefit plans under waivers or care-
    outs of ERISA's national framework.
    

A copy of the NBGH position on national health care reform can be found at www.businessgrouphealth.org

About the National Business Group on Health

The National Business Group on Health is the nation's only non-profit, membership organization of large employers devoted exclusively to finding innovative and forward-thinking solutions to their most important health care and related benefits issues. The NBGH identifies and shares best practices in health benefits, disability, health and productivity, related paid time off and work/life balance issues. NBGH members provide health coverage for more than 55 million U.S. workers, retirees and their families. For more information about the NBGH, visit www.businessgrouphealth.org

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