Insurers criticize
universal health care

Kaiser and HMSA say a legislative
plan fails to account for costs

A proposal to establish universal health care in Hawaii is flawed because it does not take into account market forces that drive up the cost of health care, the state's two largest health insurers told lawmakers.

Cutting-edge technology, the newest prescription drugs, the cost of lawsuits, the growing elderly population and more people going to the doctor than ever before all contribute to the high cost of health premiums, representatives from Kaiser Permanente and the Hawaii Medical Service Association said Tuesday.

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Kaiser spokesman Chris Pablo said a universal health care system similar to Canada's, which critics have panned for providing insufficient care, would not be accepted by Americans, who demand the best of everything, including health care.

"You can't have a Canadian-style system in America with American culture," he said. "The success of American medicine is it costs more and we pay more."

Pablo testified in opposition to a proposal that would establish a State Health Authority to study the feasibility of a universal care system and determine how such an entity would be formed and financed.

He said he would rather see lawmakers commission an economic analysis of exactly how much the proposal would cost.

The House Labor and Health committees deferred a decision on the measure until next week.

The committees also deferred action on a proposal that would create a state agency of volunteer care providers and insurance companies -- the Hawaii Health Alliance -- that would offer health care coverage for part-time workers.

That proposal aims to provide basic health coverage for those not covered by the 1974 Prepaid Health Care Act, under which a business must provide coverage for an employee who works 20 hours or more a week for four consecutive weeks.

The proposal is patterned after the Dirigo Health universal care program adopted by Maine last year.

Under Maine's plan a public-private partnership will contract with private insurers to provide coverage to those who need it.

Labor Chairman Marcus Oshiro, who introduced the bill, said he expects the proposal could provide health coverage for up to 58,000 uninsured residents -- about half the state's estimated population of 120,000 uninsured residents.

Though it took no position on the bill, HMSA had "serious concerns" about the proposal, spokeswoman Jennifer Diesman said.


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