Health of a Nation

Looking Long Term

Despite a potential flurry of activity in Congress, long-term solutions remain elusive. Employers will likely continue passing along costs to employees, but premiums probably won't level off. "In 1998, we paid $161.09 per individual for health care," says Peter Perez, co-owner of Carter Products Co. Inc., a 15-person manufacturing firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This year, it's $377.40. Says Perez, "We're still going to try to make sure our plan is as good as can be, but government has to do something more."

Policy experts suggest that in addition to AHPs and HSAs, the president must focus on health-care cost drivers, such as state mandates and the cost of prescription drugs and hospital care. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that new medical technology is the most important long-term driver of health-care costs.

Other important considerations include how the system covers the sickest Americans, generally estimated to account for 70 percent of health-care spending, and whether employers should be able to purchase health insurance from companies anywhere in the country. A new bill in Congress, the Health Care Choice Act, would allow companies to purchase from insurers anywhere in the United States, not just in their home states. Until all this happens, Alex Mann--and other entrepreneurs like him--will just hang on. "We considered AHPs a few years ago, and there were no savings," Mann says. "We've tried hard to keep our benefit expenses down. We have hefty out-of-pocket expenses, and this problem is only going to get worse." He sighs. "We still have our goals of trying to provide as much coverage as possible. Right now, I don't care about the specifics of congressional legislation. Whatever plan actually changes things, that's the best plan for me."

Information, Please

With so much new legislation on health care coming out, and with rates continuing to rise, many entrepreneurs are unsure where to turn for information. The following resources could prove helpful:

  • For broader analysis of trends in care, try larger research organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies issues ranging from health-care costs to access to insurance coverage. Kaiser also keeps up-to-date on news about health-care legislation.
  • For analysis of new ideas on the health-care frontier, try the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research organization that focuses on applied solutions to health insurance problems.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a writer in Washington, DC.

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This article was originally published in the March 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Health of a Nation.

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