Questions and answers on health care plan

Health insurancePresident Barack Obama’s goal of health insurance for all Americans is getting a boost from unlikely allies.

Insurers and medical provider groups acknowledge there’s fat in their budgets and say they’re willing to pare back future cost increases to raise money and help cover the uninsured. But that consensus may crumble once Congress starts trying to force insurers, doctors, hospitals and drug makers to accept specific cuts.

Here are some questions and answers on the health care debate:

Q: I heard I could save $2,500 on my premiums. Is that right?

A: Don’t go out and start buying new furniture yet. White House number crunchers estimate that five years from now, in a revamped health care system, cost curbs by providers could save a family of four an average of $2,500 a year. Theoretically, lower health care costs would mean bigger paychecks for most workers, since employers treat health insurance premiums as part of overall compensation. But specific predictions about savings are highly speculative, particularly since Congress is nowhere close to working out the details.

Q: Aren’t some of the industry groups now standing with Obama the same ones that torpedoed Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health care plan?

A: That’s right. Insurers say they want to work with Obama. They’ve offered concessions ? such as not charging more to those who are sick ? and even asked Congress to regulate them. Employer groups are also working with the administration, for now. The willingness of the interest groups to keep talking ? as opposed to drawing battle lines ? is one of the hopeful signs that sets this year’s debate apart from the 1990s. There’s still a long way to go, and 50 miles of bad road in any direction.

Q: They’re saying they can save $2 trillion from health costs. Even over 10 years, that’s a lot of money, right?

A: It depends. Total health care costs over the next 10 years could approach $40 trillion.

The savings that medical groups are promising wouldn’t cut health care spending but would slow its growth by about 1.5 percentage points a year over 10 years. Costs would keep rising faster than general inflation, and faster than overall economic growth. But the rising cost curve would be a little flatter.

Researchers affiliated with Dartmouth University suggest that much deeper savings could be obtained. Their studies indicate that as much as 30 percent of Medicare spending goes for services that are of little or no value. Such deep cuts, however, would trigger a revolt among providers.

Q: With the doctors, hospitals, drug makers and insurance companies on board, does this mean a health care overhaul is a done deal?

A: Congressional leaders want to pass legislation in each chamber this summer to carry out Obama’s vision for health care. But getting that done won’t be easy.

Obama’s plan would build on the current system of sharing financial responsibility among employers, government and individuals. Most people would still get private coverage. Those in large companies would probably not see dramatic changes, but self-employed people and those working for small businesses would find health insurance easier to get and more affordable. That’s going to take big government subsidies ? as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

For lawmakers trying to come up with that kind of money, it could be a long, hot summer.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.