Private Entities To Study Options For Universal Health Coverage

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New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) has ordered the state health commissioner and state insurance superintendent to develop by next summer a universal health insurance plan for the state, the governor and state officials said on Tuesday, the New York Times reports. Spitzer seeks to expand health insurance to half of the 2.8 million uninsured New York residents by 2008, as he promised during his campaign for governor, and later expand coverage to all uninsured residents.

Spitzer administration officials said that, based on a recent study, universal health insurance in New York would cost the state $3 billion to $6.2 billion annually but also could reduce costs for employers. New York Deputy Secretary of Health Dennis Whalen said that Spitzer supports a plan that includes expansions of current state health insurance programs over a number of years to cover more low- and middle-income residents. Whalen said that such expansions would establish the "foundational steps to march us toward universal health care."

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The plan also likely will include provisions similar to those in the recently implemented Massachusetts health insurance law, the Times reports. However, New York faces several challenges with the implementation of such provisions because the state has more low-income, uninsured residents and fewer employers who offer health insurance to employees than Massachusetts. "As a result, New York confronts a larger uninsured population, more of whom would require subsidies, and starts from a lower base of public and employer coverage than did Massachusetts," Whalen said.

Efforts
Three New York agencies over the past several months have conducted joint internal briefings on universal health insurance, according to state officials. In addition, the Spitzer administration plans to hold a series of five public hearings across the state from August through November to seek comments on possible expansions of current state health insurance programs. The hearings will coincide with smaller, private meetings with employers, health insurers and consumers.

The Spitzer administration this week also requested formal proposals from consulting groups to study universal health insurance plans. Spitzer said, "We're being practical and pragmatic rather than making sweeping rhetorical flourish." Whalen said, "A lot of states go out with a big glitzy press release and say, 'We have a universal coverage plan.' As we looked at those, they are all facing significant challenges" (Hakim, New York Times, 7/11).

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