- The Progressive Pulse - http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org -

Hagan releases health plan without fanfare

 As with much of her campaign, Hagan takes a cautious approach to health care reform, not proposing anything that might rock the boat. That having been said: her proposals [1] are much better than the alternative [2].

First up are Hagan's measures to control costs. She wants to institute electronic medical records, reform the Medicare prescription drug benefit and Medicare Advantage programs and allow people to buy drugs from other countries.

Second, Hagan says she would expand access to health care by expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, broaden Medicaid eligibility, offer a tax break to small businesses that offer insurance and allow people to buy into Medicare at age 55.

Third, Hagan proposes to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, cancer and AIDS research, and emphasize prevention. She also wants to get more doctors and nurses to practice in underserved areas by using tax breaks and loan forgiveness.

Again, all of these proposals are much better than Dole is offering. Our current Senator's greatest accomplishment was siding with the insurance industry to block the expansion of children's health insurance.

But several of Hagan's cost reduction ideas are what UNC Professor Jonathan Oberlander [3] calls "faith based" cost controls. There is not much evidence that electronic medical records or greater "efficiency" will save piles of money.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and permitting reimportation of drugs from Canada could help check the rising cost of pharmaceuticals.

Expanding SCHIP and ensuring that more low-income people have access to Medicaid are both great steps. Allowing people to buy into Medicare starting at age 55 — presumably at full cost — is also a good move.

Hagan's plan still does not do enough for small businesses. We need to encourage more workplaces to offer insurance and small tax breaks don't do the trick. Even with a tax advantage, and joining together with other businesses, the premiums are just too daunting. The government needs to offer a subsidized health insurance plan to help small businesses.

Increasing the number of doctors and health care professionals in rural areas is great for expanding access, but only if people are able to pay for care.

So Hagan's plan is not as comprehensive as the proposals offered by Barack Obama or Bev Perdue. But it's a good start.