Sebelius Slams Right Wing and Health Insurers, Points to Cost Accountability in Health Reform

In the past few months since historic health care reform became law, there has been a lot of beating up on this administration from both sides of the political spectrum.  If the right is always true to its laissez faire, anti-regulation views, some on the left is busy slamming the reform for not setting enough cost controls - in their view nothing suffices except legally mandated price caps.  But the real question is not an ideological one.  It is a real one.  The real question is: are accountability measures working to rein in insurance companies?  There are plenty of implications they are.

The Editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and Republican operatives have gone after the HHS for cracking down on insurance companies and not letting them get away with blaming health care reform by threatening to disqualify them from the upcoming health insurance exchanges.  Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius, in an op-ed piece written for the Wall Street Journal, slams down the right wing nutjobs.
In the last two weeks, my department has been accused of "thuggery" (this editorial page) and "Soviet tyranny" (Newt Gingrich). What prompted these accusations? The fact that we told health-insurance companies that, as required by law, we will review large premium increases and identify those that are unreasonable.[...]

[W]hat is really objectionable about these comments is not who they're attacking, but what they're defending. These critics seem to believe that any oversight of the insurance industry is too much, and that consumers would be better off in a system where they have few rights or protections.
Secretary Sebelius isn't only taking the fight to the right wing's door step and daring them to cross her, she is also pointing out real benefits already coming from the health reform law.  HHS has already issued grants to 46 states to ramp up their premium review process, and more is on the way, reports the Secretary.  Sebelius points out a success story in North Carolina (one I had pointed out earlier as well).
We are already seeing this new level of accountability pay off. Last week, North Carolina's largest insurer announced a "one-time refund that will return $155.8 million to more than 215,000 individual Blue Cross Blue Shield customers as a result of the Affordable Care Act." This rebate will put an average of $720 back into the pockets of each of those policyholders. In addition, thanks to diligent work by North Carolina's insurance commissioner, they'll see their premiums rise by less than 6% in 2011—the smallest rate increase in four years.
If you are a senior on Medicare advantage, you have even better news.  Your premiums are headed down by one percent.  When have you heard that before?  Me neither.

These are only early measures of the cost containment made possible by health care reform.  A report by the chief actuary of Medicare and Medicaid Services found that nearly 32.5 million additional Americans will gain coverage by 2019 under the new law, and the national expenditure on health care will grow by pretty much the same amount as it would have without the new law.  In other words, the new law, at the minimum, brings enough cost controls to insure 32.5 million additional Americans at essentially no extra national expenditure -- meaning that per capita spending on health care will actually fall by 2019.  So the answer to the question as to whether health reform will bring down the health care cost curve, the answer is that it will, on a per capita basis.

This doesn't even take into account the myriad of additional cost measures embedded in the law (in forms of pilot programs and otherwise, which are hard to account for).  I had laid these out in my Beyond Insurance series, if you are interested in learning more.

Whatever the big ticket public approval of health reform seems to be, much of it seems to be from a lack of awareness of the benefits of the law and from a larger displeasure with the federal government in a distressed economy (not to mention the Republican Tea Party scare-white-people tactics).  But the truth of the matter is that Americans are starting to realize that this law is reforming the system to be more consumer friendly and they want more action, not less so.  Kaiser has just released a poll showing that the approval of the law is once again outstripping its opposition, by a 49-40 margin, and showing that only 26% of Americans want the law repealed.  An AP poll found that by a 2-1 margin, Americans want even more action on health reform.  I couldn't agree more.  More action can build on the current reform, and that's what we need.