Advocates of national, single-payer health insurance held a rally in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to protest the opening of the insurance retail stores that we discussed in our post, “Shopping for Care.”
Their problem with the retail stores?
From the group’s email: “Selling healthcare coverage is an affront to the concept of healthcare as a human right, which should be guaranteed to all and equal for all.”
You can read about the protest here.
A few weeks ago we reported on Highmark’s plans to open such stores in PA. Highmark’s CEO, Ken Melani, has said that the purpose of the stores is to help guide the purchaser through the insurance buying process. He also points out that there is a growing demand for such services as folks are now heading to the individual insurance market in greater numbers.
We were skeptical about the potential success of the insurance outlets before.
After all, similar healthcare retail clinics like MinuteClinic and CheckUps, have not done very well, despite offering low-cost services and convenient hours. While it was once predicted that there would be 6,000 of these clinics by 2012, they are now shutting their doors left and right instead.
But we are also concerned about the role that these types of market-driven initiatives are expected to play in reforming our healthcare system.
In the case of the retail clinics, experts hoped that the clinics could help uninsured and underinsured patients to access cheap, preventative care, while also working to drive down the price of services offered by private providers.
But in reality, the clinics were never able to build up a large enough market share to have any influence on private provider pricing.
And most uninsured Americans have never visited a retail clinic, so they are not benefiting from this “consumer choice.”
When it comes to the insurance outlets, the single-payer advocates raise a good point.
There are fundamental problems with the for-profit, individual insurance market that keep folks from accessing affordable, comprehensive care there.
As we showed in this As We See It piece on gender rating, for example, women are charged higher premiums than men for comparable plans on the individual market. And folks with pre-existing conditions are often denied coverage altogether, or they are charged exorbitant premiums that they simply cannot afford.
Insurance retail stores are not going to solve these access and affordability problems. They will just direct more people to the problematic private insurance market.
In other words, if we do want to make sure that all Americans have access to health care, we cannot simply rely on market-based plans, such as providing tax credits to uninsured Americans so that they can obtain coverage on their own.
Afterall, what good is a tax credit when you don’t have an income?
President Obama and Congress are hammering out the details of a national universal coverage initiative that would include a public sector health plan for uninsured Americans to buy into. More about the public sector option to come.
And single-payer advocates propose having a Medicare-like insurance program for all Americans. Under this plan, the government would finance insurance coverage and private hospitals, physicians and clinics would continue as private organizations to provide care.