Much noise was raised about protecting the Oregon Health Plan from budget cuts in the recent special legislative session. A more constructive ruckus would have started with the question: how can we get more affordable private health insurance, and thereby reduce the need for the OHP?
Randall J. Pozdena, Ph.D., noted in a November 2000 Cascade report, “Oregon is one of 16 states identified by the U.S. General Accounting Office as having implemented stringent health insurance regulations in the 1990s.” Guaranteed issue laws, mandated benefits, and portability and pre-existing condition regulations inflate the cost of health insurance, pricing many individuals and families out of the market.
Across the country politicians have forced insurers to cover specific medical providers, such as podiatrists or chiropractors, or specific medical services, such as mammograms and maternity coverage. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of America, there were seven mandated benefits nationwide in 1965; today that number is nearly 1,400. Such legislation is often well intentioned, but it means that only expensive, Cadillac health plans are available even though many would prefer to purchase less expensive, no-frills policies.
The OHP was meant to expand health insurance coverage to more Oregonians. To achieve that goal legislators should clear away the legalistic underbrush and help make private health insurance more affordable in Oregon.
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