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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Health insurance in the United States is relatively a new phenomenon

Millions of Americans have lost their health insurance. Should the United States government give everyone free health care? In Canada and many European countries, health insurance is guaranteed. Some experts here argue that universal health insurance can be successful. They believe that market forces will fix any shortcomings of the U.S. health care system.

Health insurance in the United States is relatively a new phenomenon. The first plans began during the Civil War (1861-1865). The earliest ones only offered protection against accidents related from travel by rail or steamboat. The plans did, however, pave the way more comprehensive plans covering all illnesses and injuries. The first group policy giving comprehensive benefits was offered by Massachusetts Health Insurance of Boston in 1847. Insurance companies issued the first individual disability and illness policies in about 1890.
In 1929, the first modern group of health insurance formed. A group of teachers in Dallas, Texas, contracted with Baylor Hospital for room, board, and medical services in exchange for a monthly fee. Several large life insurance companies entered the health insurance field in the 1930’s and 1940’s as the popularity of health insurance increased. In 1932 nonprofit organizations called Blue Cross or Blue Shield first offered group health plans. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans were successful because they involved discounted contracts negotiated with doctors and hospitals. In return for promises of increased volume and prompt payment, providers gave discounts to the Blue Cross and Shield plans.
When the government created Medicare and Medicaid programs in 1965, private sources still paid 75 percent of all of the health care costs. By 1995, individuals and companies only paid for about half of the health care with the government responsible for the other half.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the cost of health care rose rapidly and the majority of employer-sponsored group insurance plans switched from “fee-for-service” plans to the cheaper “managed care plans.” As a result, most Americans with health insurance were enrolled in managed care plans by the mid-1990s.
In 1993 President Bill Clinton presented to the U.S. Congress a health care reform plan that would have guaranteed health insurance for all Americans. Congressional leaders opposed the plan as it was too expensive and excessively regulated. In 1994, members of Congress introduced a series of alternative proposals, but no compromise was ever reached. In 1996 Congress passed the Mental Health Parity Act, to require some employers to offer health plans with psychiatric benefits. Congress also passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996. This protected individuals from losing their health insurance when they moved from one job to another or became self-employed. Unfortunately, it did not ensure the overall quality or comprehensiveness of insurance offered by employers.
The Bush administration and Congress have pledged to reform health care but even the proposals have been delayed by more urgent financial concerns and issues related to Iraq. It is unlikely that the Federal Government will change the foundation of the current system anytime soon. It would be wise for all people to check their insurance benefits, make sure that their policies serve their needs, and simultaneously shop for the best plans as they also try to select the best doctors.
President Barack Obama’s health care initiative will benefit from a key change in the political landscape since the Clinton administration’s effort failed in 1994. Government and business now agree this is a problem that needs fixing. The new push for health care reform continues Monday when the Obama administration seeks public comments during a forum at the Polk County Convention Complex. The session is one of five around the nation this spring as part of an effort by the president to forge a public consensus on what needs to be done to address the nation’s health care problems.
As the debate gears up in Washington, Harkin and Grassley are expected to play key roles in Congress’ deliberations. That means Iowans’ concerns, such as rural health care and the effect on the state’s insurance businesses, will be represented.

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