By The Associated Press (AP)

A look at key issues in the health care debate:

THE ISSUE: How much do Americans who have employer-sponsored health insurance pay in premiums? What do their employers pay? Would that change if the system is overhauled?

THE POLITICS: Health care costs have been increasing. For Americans and the businesses that insure most of them, that translates into higher insurance premiums. The average premium cost for employer-provided insurance has doubled since 2000. These days, coverage for an individual with employer-provided insurance costs on average $4,824 a year, with the employee paying $779 of that amount, according to a 2009 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust. For a family plan, the premium is $13,375 with the employee paying $3,515. Under current law, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that in 2016 average premiums for employer-based insurance will rise to about $7,500 for a single policy and about $19,000 for a family policy.

WHAT IT MEANS: Numerous factors will affect the cost of insurance under proposed health care bills, making their impact hard to predict. But President Barack Obama has vowed to lower the cost of health care. A recent study by America’s Health Insurance Plans said the most moderate of the Democrats’ health insurance plans would increase premiums. But the study only examined select aspects of the bill and ignored provisions aimed at making health care more affordable. The legislation would set up exchanges where companies would compete for customers. It also would provide subsidies for lower-income people.

_ Jim Kuhnhenn


WASHINGTON — Many middle-class Americans would still struggle to pay for health insurance despite efforts by President Barack Obama and Democrats to make coverage more affordable.

The legislation advancing in Congress would require all Americans to get insurance — through an employer, a government program or by buying it themselves. But new tax credits to help with premiums won’t go far enough for everyone. Some middle-class families purchasing their own coverage through new insurance exchanges could find it out of reach.

Lawmakers recognize the problem.

“For some people it’s going to be a heavy lift,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. “We’re doing our best to make sure it’s not an impossible lift.”

Added Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine: “We have no certainty as to whether or not these plans are going to be affordable.” Both are on the Senate Finance Committee, which finished writing a health care bill on Friday.

A new online tool from the Kaiser Family Foundation illustrates the predicament.

The Health Reform Subsidy Calculator provides ballpark estimates of what households of varying incomes and ages would pay under the different Democratic health care bills. The legislation is still a work in progress and the calculator only a rough guide. Nonetheless, the results are revealing.


insslideA Constitutional Debate Over a Health Care Mandate

By Katharine Q. Seelye, September 26, 2009

The requirement that everyone buy health insurance moved a step closer to reality last week — and possibly a step closer to being challenged in court.

Conservatives and libertarians, mostly, have been advancing the theory lately that the individual mandate, in which the government would compel everyone to buy insurance or pay a penalty, is unconstitutional.

“I think an individual mandate will pass, and I think it’s going to be very vulnerable because it exceeds Congress’s constitutional authority,” said David Rivkin, a lawyer who served in the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Mr. Rivkin spelled out his argument in a recent op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal that he co-wrote.

“If you say the government can mandate your behavior as far as this type of insurance goes,” he said, “there will be nothing the government can’t do. They can control every single way in which you dispose of your income.”


mayoclinicDuplication Wouldn’t Be Easy, Critics Say

By Alec MacGillis and Rob Stein, September 20, 2009
ROCHESTER, Minn. — The Mayo Clinic looms out of the prairie here like the mecca it has become, a world-renowned medical complex that is often cited by President Obama as his model for national heath-care reform.

“Look at what the Mayo Clinic is able to do. It’s got the best quality and the lowest cost of just about any system in the country,” Obama said in Minneapolis this month. “So what we want to do is we want to help the whole country learn from what Mayo is doing. . . . That will save everybody money.”

Few dispute the prowess of Mayo, which brings in $9 billion in revenue a year and hosts 250 surgeries a day. But a battle is underway among health-care experts and lawmakers over whether its success can be so easily replicated. Before embracing a fundamentally new approach to health care, dissenting experts and lawmakers say, Congress should scrutinize the assumption that a Mayo-type model is the answer.

They point out that Mayo’s patients are wealthier, healthier and less racially diverse than those elsewhere in the country. It has few poor patients. It limits the number of procedures it performs per patient, but the rates it charges private insurers and self-paying patients is higher than average, allowing it to thrive despite the lower Medicare spending cited by its supporters.

Armed with their new stature, officials from Mayo and a handful of similar facilities have become determined lobbyists in their own right. They are pushing for an overhaul of Medicare that would reward cost-effective hospitals and doctors, while punishing others.

But if the Mayo model is, in fact, difficult for even the most dutiful hospitals elsewhere to mimic, such an overhaul could set up many providers nationwide for failure — and a big loss of funds.


WDIO-WIRT_LogoMN Health Commissioner Unveils Preventative Health Program

by Kim Johnson

While a national conversation is underway on how to curb health care costs, a local effort was announced Friday in Duluth by the Minnesota Commissioner of Health that may help do that.

It’s called the Statewide Health Improvement Program. The state is giving the Northland $2 million spread out over two years to cut down on obesity and smoking rates to prevent people from needing expensive health care in the future.

“We have a problem in Minnesota,” said Dr. Sanne Magnan, health commissioner. “Instead of waiting until people are sick, let’s get upstream and invest in health and prevention to have a healthier Minnesota.”


healthcare costsHealthcare costs for Americans who get medical coverage through an employer hit a record $16,771 per family this year. To follow up on Wednesday’s post, I thought it would be a good idea to examine how we might be able to lower costs on an individual and family level. While many of you may be apathetic or cynical towards any health care changes coming from Washington, we can take matters into our own hands, lead better lives and have an impact.