Senate holds hearing on state, future of insurance: 8 takeaways

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The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing titled "Health Insurance Coverage in America: Current and Future Role of Federal Programs" on Oct. 20, where lawmakers and witnesses spoke on the state of health insurance in America. 

Eight takeaways:

1. In Sen. Ron Wyden's, D-Ore., opening statement, the committee chair focused the hearing's efforts on navigating Medicaid expansion, building on pandemic-era policy and improving Medicare coverage. Mr. Wyden also clarified that his goal was to fund the proposals laid out in the hearing by means other than the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund.

2. Ranking member Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, flaunted the "unprecedented" successes of Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage programs. He specifically praised Part D's support of innovative devices, telehealth access and limits on out-of-pocket spending. 

3. Mr. Crapo specifically pushed back against letting Medicare negotiate drug prices, citing a University of Chicago study that found it would stifle research, drug approval and ultimately result in losses of life. He did, however, cite telehealth expansion and outcomes-based payment agreements as areas for compromise between Democrats and Republicans. 

4. Testimony from Sara Collins, PhD, vice president of healthcare coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund, focused on the state of employer-sponsored health insurance. Dr. Collins noted that a quarter of adults under employer-sponsored plans are underinsured, with that figure on the rise since 2010. 

5. Mr. Wyden asked how a public option or expanded Medicare Part B benefits would affect the Medicare trust fund, with Dr. Collins claiming that additional revenue sources would cut negative effects. 

6. The hearing's final guest witness was Douglas Holtz-Eakin, PhD, president of the American Action Forum, who provided a snapshot on current enrollment percentages. He reported that last year, 66.5 percent of Americans had private insurance, 34.8 percent had public insurance and 8.6 percent were uninsured. 

7. Dr. Holtz-Eakin also said that in 2020, Hispanics (18.3 percent) were the least insured demographic, followed by Blacks (10.4 percent) and Asians (5.9 percent). 

8. Looking forward, Dr. Holtz-Eakin identified Medicare Part D as having the potential for reform. He suggested it be restructured in a way that "realigns incentives away from high-cost, high-rebate drugs."

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