Roberts’ bold, comprehensive health care reform package will transform Rhode Island’s health care system by putting in place a strong, new structure to lower health care costs and ensure that all Rhode Islanders have access to high quality health care at price they can afford
PROVIDENCE— Surrounded by small business owners, health care advocates, consumers and legislators, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts today released the Healthy Rhode Island Reform Act of 2008, her comprehensive health care reform package. Roberts’ bold series of eight bills would transform Rhode Island’s health care system by putting in place a strong, new structure to ensure that all Rhode Islanders have access to high quality health care at a price they can afford. House Majority Leader Gordon Fox and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed were both in attendance.
At its most basic, the health care reform initiative is about increasing health care value and access for all Rhode Islanders, with the overall result being a transformation of the state's ailing system into a healthy one. This package will immediately start moving to insure over 10% of the uninsured with no new state expenditures, and will establish a serious process for cutting costs and increasing value in our health care system. It will create a strong and sustainable structure that will make it possible to bring every uninsured Rhode Islander into this new system as money becomes available from the savings accrued through the transformation of the health care system.
“This year, thousands of small business owners receive notices in the mail telling them that their premiums are going up again. Tens of thousands of individuals and families open up medical bills every month that they struggle to pay. More than 100,000 Rhode Islanders lack health insurance and have little or no access to preventive medicine. When they get sick, they rely on emergency care that we all pay for through higher premiums and taxes,” Roberts said. “People have told me that we cannot afford to reform health care this year. I know that we can't afford not to. This is not one of those problems that will just go away if we ignore it. Things won’t get better, they will get worse. This is a big idea at a time when it feels like our only instinct is to retreat, not advance. I can’t accept that approach. Positive change happens when leaders are willing to confront the challenges that are presented and still have the courage to plan for the future.”
Roberts said the initiative is unique because it calls on policy makers, state officials and citizens to work together to establish the infrastructure for change and to set clear priorities before new public funds are invested. This approach ensures that leaders in Rhode Island will get to work immediately, but will proceed prudently as new investments in covering the uninsured are considered in a public process. Roberts will take the plan “on the road” in a series of town hall meetings to discuss how the plan will help families and business.
Roberts’ legislative package comes at the culmination of nine meetings of Mission: Healthy RI, the advisory work group that Roberts asked to work with her as she moved the state toward a plan to ensure that all Rhode Islanders have access to the highest quality health care at a cost they can afford. Participants in Mission: Healthy RI, who came from Rhode Island’s public and private sectors, gathered over the course of three months to closely study the specific issues surrounding the complicated process of comprehensive health care reform. Noted guests included Dr. David Cutler, Dean of Social Sciences at Harvard University, Dr. John McDonough, executive director of Health Care for All in Massachusetts, and Christopher Koller, Rhode Island Health Insurance Commissioner.
Highlights of Roberts’ Healthy Rhode Island Reform Act of 2008 include:
• The establishment of a Healthy RI Strategic Plan and Healthy RI Chronic Care Management Program: health insurance provided by the state will include cutting edge chronic disease management, an emphasis on primary care and paying physicians to keep their patients healthy, thus leading the way for the state and the nation. • The creation of the Health Care Quality and Value Database: This comprehensive database brings a laser-like focus on both cost and quality and creates a user-friendly, online interface that will empower individuals and families to take control of their health care expenditures. • The creation of the Rhode Island Health Insurance Access Hub (HealthHub RI): By July 2009, the HealthHub will allow individuals and small business owners to purchase portable, affordable health insurance for themselves, their families, and their employers. The HealthHub board will be charged with ensuring that plans offered will be affordable, flexible, and robust. • The establishment of a requirement for both individuals and businesses who can afford insurance to take responsibility for coverage: All residents whose income exceeds 400% FPL ($40,840 for an individual, $82,600 for a family of four) will be required to purchase affordable health care coverage through the HealthHub. The Office of Health Insurance Commissioner estimates that there are close to 15,000 Rhode Islanders who would be covered by this mandate. This legislation also requires employers who do not provide health insurance to pay a health security assessment to the state. This assessment will go to HealthHub for purposes of providing support for insurance for the uninsured. This requirement, combined with the requirement that individuals with sufficient means purchase insurance, will have a combined effect to reduce the number of uninsured Rhode Islanders. • Additional strategies to insure more Rhode Islanders: Dependent children up to 25 years old will be able to remain on their parents' insurance regardless of student status. Insurers licensed in Massachusetts and Connecticut will also be encouraged to offer innovative new affordable health insurance here in Rhode Island.