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Washington Watch - June 20, 2013

GAO Releases Report on Health Insurance Exchange Progress

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a status report on the logistics for establishing the online portal that will support the federally-facilitated health insurance exchanges in 34 states and found that the system and other key components are behind schedule. The exchange portal is scheduled to launch October 1, 2013.

Early estimates suggest that nearly 7 million Americans will purchase individual health insurance plans through the federally-facilitated exchange market. The concerns outlined in the GAO report echo issues that the NASE has communicated to Administration officials tasked with implementation. A primary concern is the lack of information about health insurance premiums for 2014 – critical knowledge for individuals to have prior to open enrollment on October 1, 2013.

The Administration remains confident that the Exchange portal will be up and running by the scheduled launch date, and continues to emphasize that enrollment will be open for six months in order to allow individuals time to review their options and select the right health insurance coverage.

Happy National Small Business Week!

If President Obama is the coach of the team for creating new jobs, his quarterback is small business. The coach may lay out the game plan, but small businesses play the game. Small businesses have created two-thirds of new jobs in America. The President as the coach understands the importance of such a strong quarterback and has issued a proclamation announcing this year’s National Small Business Week for June 17th to 21st. Get more information about National Small Business Week here.

National Small Business Week consists of conferences throughout the country highlighting the achievement and importance of small business. The conferences will visit cities including Seattle, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and finally Washington, D.C. The conferences allow small-business owners a chance to learn from experts and discuss issues amongst peers.

NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, a man that knows a little about excellent quarterback play, is among the list of speakers. The list ranges from Twitter creator, Jack Dorsey, to the leader of the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills. Check out the full list of speakers here.

The NASE understands the pressure that comes with being the quarterback. We are working to protect small businesses. To help all of the members of our small-business team support each other, the NASE recently launched the Small Business Locator to help NASE Members and others connect with each other.

Senate Finance Holds Hearing on Health Care Costs

The United States Senate Committee on Finance recently held a hearing on lowering health care costs entitled High Prices, Low Transparency: The Bitter Pill of Health Care Costs. An article in TIME magazine, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” written in early 2013 by Steven Brill, inspired committee to hold the hearing to discuss health care industry practices.

Speaking before the committee as a witness, Mr. Brill further explained the injustice of the current health care market. Multiple witnesses, including Mr. Brill, discussed how large hospitals and pharmaceutical companies monopolize the health care market and price gouge the Americans seeking their assistance. Witnesses argued that the industry has dissociated clear market prices from particular health care procedures. The necessity of health care also means that the health care industry does not face market competition, creating a market where hospitals and drug companies are raking in large profits while patients suffer. Mr. Brill likened the industry to a casino where the house holds all the cards.

Mr. Brill agitated many Senators when he pointed to campaign contributions given by the health care industry, and questioned the will of Congress to go after an industry that bankrolls their campaigns. Mr. Brill even suggested that when members of Congress are speaking on this issue, C-SPAN should include contribution credits below each Congressperson’s name to make such campaign contributions transparent to the voting public. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) attacked Mr. Brill’s idea, and noted past reformers who faced down big industry.

The issue of high health care costs was not solved during the hearing. One witness, Dr. Giovanni Colella, CEO and co-founder of Castlight Health, asserted that a website rating hospitals on price and quality of care would help. Dr. Colella suggested that such transparency would create competition among health care providers for a patient’s business.

Other witnesses suggested the government use Medicare to control high health care costs – a frequently heard answer to the problem. Supporters contend that Medicare could bargain for lower prices like the Veteran’s Administration does. Another witness at the hearing, Dr. Paul Ginsburg, President of the Center for Studying Health System Change, revealed that Medicare users already participate in a much calmer market, and argued that the real problem is price gouging in the private sector. The answer to the problem of high health costs is complex, but can be boiled down to a one question: Will elected officials take on the health care industry?

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