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Santa Monica, CA -- A new report released today by the Commonwealth Fund pushing national health reform modeled on a Massachusetts law — requiring all residents to buy private insurance without regulating what insurers can charge — is contrary to the will of American voters, according to recent polling commissioned by Consumer Watchdog.

The December 2008 poll, based on 840 interviews among registered voters in the United States, reveals that when Americans are told that they would have to pay for coverage or face tax liens and other penalties, as required in Massachusetts and under federal proposals, less than 15% support, and 53% oppose, requiring every American to provide proof of private health insurance. Download the poll coordinated by Grove Insight, Inc. here.

In addition to today's report, the Commonwealth Fund released a misleading poll last year showing support for mandatory purchase of health insurance.  Consumer Watchdog asked that the question behind the poll be revealed.  The poll question misrepresented the mandatory purchase model by suggesting that most people would not have to pay for coverage, stating: "People with higher incomes who do not have coverage would be required to buy insurance, and the government would help to pay for insurance for those who can't afford it."  

"When voters are told they will have to reach into their own pocket to pay for health insurance they quickly turn against proposals requiring them to buy from insurance companies that are unrestrained in how much they can charge," said Jerry Flanagan, Health Care Policy Director for Consumer Watchdog. "Mandatory purchase is DOA. Policy makers should look to other approaches like giving all Americans the option of joining Medicare."

Consumer Watchdog points to a more plausible reform, a public, nonprofit national alternative to private insurance.  For example, the plan supported by President-elect Barack Obama would give Americans access to a public alternative to the private market without requiring Americans to purchase coverage.

Today's report did find that a proposal (H.R. 1841) by Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) creating a new public health insurance program administered by the federal government and offering multiple choices for health coverage, would reduce national health care spending by $58 billion while covering millions more people.  According to the report, the Stark proposal achieves this savings by significantly lowering the costs of insurance administration by covering most people through a program like Medicare, which has minuscule administrative costs when compared to private insurance.

"A mandatory purchase regime, particularly one without a true public option such as universal access to Medicare and and guaranteed benefits, amounts only to a government-funded customer delivery system for the fragmented, wasteful private insurance market," said Jerry Flanagan. "It will not solve our nation’s health care problems and will only encourage the industry to demand higher premiums and more taxpayer subsidies, while providing less health care."

Elements of the Massachusetts law, including guaranteed access, community rating and subsidies to lower-income communities, provide models for national reform.  However, Massachusetts’ failure to establish a minimum benefit, regulate insurance premiums, or provide access to an efficiently run public alternative to the private market has already undercut coverage and increased both state and individual costs in subsidized plans, while reducing the rate of new coverage in unsubsidized mandatory purchases. Its example shows the pitfalls of declining to grapple straightforwardly with the role of the insurance industry in creating the U.S. health care crisis.

The Commonwealth Fund report is available for download here.

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