Health Insurance :: Professor Leads Task Force on Barriers to Health Insurance

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has partnered with the state’s Health and Wellness Trust Fund (HWTF) Commission to create the Task Force for a Healthier North Carolina. The task force is charged with examining barriers that limit access to health insurance and offering policy recommendations to overcome the barriers.

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, chair of the HWTF, announced the task force today (Nov. 16) at a public forum on Medicare Part D, the first topic the task force will tackle. Other topics, which will also receive public forums, are “Children, Working Families and S-CHIP” and “Small Business and Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance.”

“Health care is an incredibly complex area,” said Dr. Daniel Gitterman, director of the task force and an assistant professor of public policy in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “This forum is the first step our task force will take toward recommending policy changes so that the people of North Carolina receive the full compliment of Medicare Part D health care benefits for which they are eligible.”

While Medicare Part D provides much-needed assistance for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, there are several important issues that state policy makers can address, Gitterman said. “Among the most important considerations are out-of-pocket charges, which are sometimes referred to as the “doughnut hole” in Medicare coverage; monthly premiums; which drugs are covered; and how the Medicare prescription drug plan interacts with other prescription drug benefits,” he said.

NC Health Choice, which is the state’s health insurance program for children, and Medicaid are integral parts of state strategies to expand insurance coverage to children of low-income and uninsured parents, Gitterman said. But there is an 8.3 percent “crowd out” rate of enrollees, and in January 2006 children 5 and younger, who were covered by the state, were switched to Medicaid plans. Gitterman said the task force will address crowding out, assess the shift to Medicaid and examine ways to improve enrollment.

“Although one might presume that most people are uninsured because they have no job, this is not the case in North Carolina,” Gitterman said. The number of uninsured and underinsured are steadily climbing in the state. Of the uninsured, 78 percent are full-time workers; 50 percent of the uninsured are either employed or have a family member employed by a small business. The task force will explore strategies to improve access to group health insurance for small-businesses (with 50 or fewer employees) and limit financial exposure for the underinsured, Gitterman said.

The task force will subcontract with the Lewin Group, a national health care and human services consulting group, to provide analytical support. The task force is budgeted through 2007.

“These are national issues that we face close to home,” Gitterman said. “We are excited that the state recognizes this opportunity to improve the access to health care for people in North Carolina. UNC is honored to take a leadership role in this initiative.”

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