Oxendine speaks to Chamber about health care

Covington - Georgia's Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine warned members of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday against a national health care system.

He said the nation is in the midst of a crisis with regard to funding health care and the system is unfair.

The country has three choices about what to do next, he said: establish a nationalized health care system, do nothing or make changes to the current system.

"I've got three kids at home, and I don't want them to grow up with national health care," he said during the meeting of chamber members, many of whom were insurance agents and local government officials who gathered at DeKalb Technical College.

Oxendine said if the government does nothing about the health care system in its current state and simply hopes the problems go away, it will only result in nationalized health care. After the meeting, Oxendine said he is against a national health care system because he feels it will result in a lower quality of medical care and higher prices.

Many insurance companies believe Georgia needs more competition to solve the problems, but Oxendine said he believes the state has enough competition now, which is as much as it will ever see.

What the state should do, the insurance commissioner said, is regulate the health insurance industry more.

"Health insurance at the state level is the least regulated" compared to car, home and other insurances, he said. "We need to look at different types of approaches to health insurance."

According to a news release in January, Oxendine proposed House Bill 923, which would hold insurance companies more accountable when they file for rate hikes. The bill did not make it out of the House of Representatives before this year's legislative session ended.

"We will be empowered to hold the line on increases and make sure that health rates are in line with market realities," Oxendine said in the release.

Oxendine also raised concerns Wednesday morning about government-provided health care for children and Medicaid, saying it needs to be more fair, have patient incentives and have more managed cost and utilization.

He said he fears that too many children are becoming reliant on free health care, and they expect the same treatment as adults.

"You can't raise someone their entire life and pay for their health care and then cut them off," he said, adding that such a situation also could lead to national health care.

Oxendine suggested Medicaid should be changed to slowly wean users off of it. He said the government should give people the opportunity to have 100 percent coverage or 90 or 80 percent Medicaid coverage, depending on their economic situation. Some adults who are on Medicaid, he said, can't afford to take even a small salary increase because they will lose Medicaid coverage.

"We've created a system where they are trying to get a better job ... but it costs you your government assistance," he said. "They are smart. ... No one in their right mind is going to get off of government assistance" in that situation.

"We need to rethink our entire system," he said, later adding that he doesn't have any specific plans or legislation in the works.

Oxendine will serve as insurance and fire safety commissioner until January 2011 and has formed a committee to run for governor in 2010.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.