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Forum Highlights Role of Private Sector in Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Europe

Swiss and Dutch Insurers Outline Features of their Countries' Models at Event Sponsored by AHIP and Kaiser Permanente

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Switzerland and The Netherlands are among countries in Europe that have universal health coverage through systems in which the private sector plays a central role in making care better and more affordable. There are a variety of approaches that countries have taken to cover all of their citizens, a fact that argues for a careful analysis of what is working and what is not as the U.S. approaches the 2008 elections and debates the merits of proposals to cover 47 million uninsured individuals here in our own country.

That was the message of a forum held today at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., featuring executives from private insurance companies in Switzerland and The Netherlands, and sponsored by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Kaiser Permanente.

"Our community is committed to working to achieve coverage for all Americans," said AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni, in opening remarks at the event.

AHIP and Kaiser Permanente held the forum, Ignagni said, not to endorse a particular system or model. She noted that "there is confusion in our public debate between the idea of 'universal coverage' and the term 'government run.'"

Ignagni also reaffirmed AHIP's long-term commitment to finding solutions to the access problem, raising the visibility of the issue, and promoting an elevated public policy discussion about how to improve access, quality, and affordability in health care.

The foundation of this effort is a proposal released by AHIP immediately following the mid-term elections in 2006 that would expand access to health insurance coverage to every American. The plan would expand eligibility for public programs, enable all consumers to purchase insurance with pre-tax dollars, and provide financial assistance to help working families afford coverage. The proposal was credited with jump starting a renewed discussion about how to achieve universal coverage in the U.S.

Willem Van Duin, who presented at today's forum, is a Member of the Executive Board of Eureko BV, the parent organization of The Netherlands' largest health insurer, Achmea Health. He described the new system in his country, adopted in 2006, in which all residents are required to purchase health insurance offered by private insurance companies. Individuals are permitted to switch health plans every year. Groups, including employer groups, are eligible for discounts of up to 10 percent. Care is provided by private doctors and hospitals.

Daniel Schmutz, who also presented at the forum, is CFO & a Member of the Executive Board of Helsana, the largest health insurance company in Switzerland. The Swiss system, which does not include a role for employers, provides coverage to all residents through private health insurance, with care provided at public and private hospitals and by mostly private doctors. There is a standard benefit package, but individuals choose from different coverage plans where premiums, deductibles, and provider networks vary. Individuals contribute a significant amount to the monthly premiums, and the government subsidizes premiums for low income individuals. General taxation and pension funds cover the remaining costs.

Both Van Duin and Schmutz emphasized that innovation and choice have been the hallmarks of systems that rely on the private sector to achieve universal coverage. They also emphasized that there is a high level of consumer satisfaction with these systems.

Many U.S. policymakers and some in the media believe all European countries that have achieved universal coverage have "Canadian-like" systems, when, in fact, some have used the exact opposite approach, and some have used mixed models, according to Kaiser Chairman George Halvorson. Mr. Halvorson is also chairman of AHIP's Board of Directors and is president of the International Federation of Health Plans.

In introducing the event, Halvorson said, "In the past, our debates have targeted Canada alone for analysis, or, to the extent that we discuss Europe, have focused on the British National Health Service." He believes our health reform debate can be informed by a better understanding of how a variety of models works.

America's Health Insurance Plans - Providing Health Benefits to More Than 200 Million Americans

Kaiser Permanente is America's largest integrated health care delivery system. Founded in 1945, it is a nonprofit health plan headquartered in Oakland, California, and is comprised of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, and the Permanente Medical Groups. We also have an affiliation with Group Health Cooperative, based in Seattle, Washington. Kaiser Permanente serves the health care needs of its members in nine states and Washington, DC.

Kaiser Permanente aspires to be a world leader in improving health through high-quality, affordable, integrated health care. As a health care provider, Kaiser Permanente is distinguished by its strong social purpose, physician responsibility for clinical care, and an enduring partnership between its health plan and its medical groups.

SOURCE America's Health Insurance Plans
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