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The more things change, the more politicians stay the same. That's why Washington needs yet another wake-up call on the definition of a crisis. While the President's plans for revamping Social Security are making headlines, his push to reform healthcare needs top billing. We can't afford to have it sidelined another year to other political issues.
Surveys conducted by MDM over the past six months repeatedly point to healthcare costs as the top concern of distribution executives. The next most important issues are related: controlling operating costs and managing shrinking margins. While there is more hope for a pro-business agenda in Washington this year than in many years past, the danger is what the danger always has been - focusing on everything to the point of distraction.
First, there is arguably no more important business issue than addressing the year-to-year rising costs of health insurance premiums, consistently double-digit increases annually for most companies, even with reductions in company-paid premiums. And you would be hard pressed to find anyone to argue that consumers of healthcare services are completely disconnected from the costs of delivery.
Insurers are increasingly offering Health Savings Accounts as an option and HSAs are rapidly gaining momentum. To his credit, the President has proposed detailed plans with incentives for HSAs and association-sponsored health plans. These plans are not the end point solution for healthcare, but it is the best option to start attacking the cost structure, and ultimately make some more difficult long-term changes. A similar process took place with the development of HMOs more than 20 years ago to address a dysfunctional delivery system. This has to be the year.