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Public Plan Supporters Plan Protest at AHIP

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 3, 2009

Armed with reports they say document the lack of real health plan choice, several hundred protesters plan to demonstrate their case for a competitive, public plan this week as 1,200 health officials gather for America's Health Insurance Plan convention in San Diego.

"We want the insurance companies to support and allow our government to create a public health insurance option," says Mari Lopez, health policy specialist for the California Partnership, a statewide group that fights poverty. The partnership, several labor union groups, and single payer advocacy organizations plan to join in the demonstrations outside the San Diego Convention Center.

Lopez insists that the group does not oppose health plans per se.

"But we don't want those health plans to obstruct the creation of an affordable public plan. There needs to be something for the public that's similar to Medicare. They need to support this, or get out of the way," she says.

The groups are referring to claims by many health plan industry representatives that the health plan market remains competitive throughout the country.

But a report released late last month by Health Care for America Now! documents that in 12 of 43 states surveyed, one health insurance company controls at least two-thirds of the healthcare market. In another 12 states, one health insurance company has 50% or more of the healthcare market.

In 39 states, two health insurance companies have 50% or more of the health plan market.

According to the American Medical Association, 94% of insurance markets in the U.S. are now highly concentrated, which the report says has "undermined market efficiency. Premiums have skyrocketed, increasing more than 87%, on average, over the past six years."

The report said that insurance company mergers and consolidations have "disproportionately" disadvantaged rural and lower-population states. In Hawaii, Rhode Island, Alaska, Vermont, Alabama, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Iowa, the two largest health insurers control at least 80% of the statewide market. In Alabama, the biggest insurer holds 89% of the statewide market."

Both the national report released last week and the newer California report maintain that private health plans should compete side-by-side on a level playing field with public insurance plans "to reward those that deliver better value and do the best job of improving their enrollees' health."

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