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Talking Health: Health Insurance

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Health reform is picking up steam in Congress. A major flash point in the coming debate is whether employers and individuals should be able to obtain health insurance through a public plan that is similar to Medicare, as well as private insurance from commercial carriers.

The public plan option is controversial. Supporters believe such a plan is an essential ingredient of reform and will help slow the increase in health care spending. But many special interests – including the insurance industry – oppose the idea, seeing it as a threat to their business. Will Congress ultimately enact a public option, and if so who will be able to choose it? What will it cost, and how will it be run?

Our May 1 Talking Health program featured two experts: Cathy Schoen, senior vice president for research and evaluation at The Commonwealth Fund, and Bruce M. Bullen, chief operating officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. They offered their judgments on what we can expect. Our journalist experts, Los Angeles Times reporter Noam Levey and New York Times reporter Reed Abelson, provided their insights and suggestions for covering what will be a major story in the coming months.

The speakers

Reed Abelson has covered health care for the business section of The New York Times since 2002. Her interests include the rising cost of medical care, how financial incentives affect the delivery of health care and the increasing numbers of people in this country without adequate health insurance. Abelson joined the newspaper as a reporter in 1995. She previously worked at Smart Money, Forbes, Fortune and the Philadelphia Business Journal. (Here is the story Abelson wrote that Lieberman referred to during the webcast.

Bruce Bullen is chief operating officer of Harvard Pilgrim, one of New England’s largest nonprofit managed health care organizations, provides care and coverage to approximately one million members in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. Before becoming Harvard Pilgrim’s COO, Bullen was Massachusetts' Medicaid director, responsible for the $4 billion MassHealth program, and commissioner of the Division of Medical Assistance, an independent state agency. Bullen served in Massachusetts State government for more than 20 years as.  He worked for six years as budget director and director of contracts in the Executive Office of Human Services, and served as budget director for the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

Noam N. Levey covers health care policy for the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington bureau. Levey grew up in Boston, where his father was a doctor, and earned a degree from Princeton University in Middle Eastern history. He has written for newspapers in the Persian Gulf, Midwest and California. Since 2003, he has been a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, covering City Hall, Capitol Hill and most recently, the 2008 presidential election.

Trudy Lieberman is the director of the health and medicine reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Journalism Review, a contributor to The Nation and the author of several books. She has won numerous awards for her reporting including two National Magazine Awards. She also was a Fulbright Scholar to Japan and a John J. McCloy fellow to Germany to study health care in those countries. She is president of the AHCJ board of directors.

Cathy Schoen is senior vice president at The Commonwealth Fund. She is a member of the Fund's executive management team and research director of the Fund's Commission on a High Performance Health System. Her work includes strategic oversight and management of surveys, research and policy initiatives to track health system performance. From 1998 through 2005, she directed the Fund's Task Force on the Future of Health Insurance. Prior to joining the Fund in 1995, Schoen taught health economics at the University of Massachusetts' School of Public Health and directed special projects at the UMASS Labor Relations and Research Center. During the 1980s, she directed the Service Employees International Union's research and policy department. In the late 1970s, she was on the staff of President Carter's national health insurance task force, where she oversaw analysis and policy development. Prior to federal service, she was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She has authored numerous publications on health policy issues, insurance, and national/international health system performance and co-authored the book, Health and the War on Poverty. She holds an undergraduate degree in economics from Smith College and a graduate degree in economics from Boston College.