PROVIDENCE – A new report released Tuesday by the think tank R.I. Center for Freedom & Prosperity claimed that a large number of Rhode Islanders who are uninsured could remain uninsured under the implementation of health care reform in Rhode Island.
The 16-page report, entitled “Left Behind by Health Care Reform in Rhode Island,” claimed that more than half to three quarters of the current uninsured population of 124,000 Rhode Islanders could remain uninsured, despite efforts to have them covered through expansion of Medicaid or through commercial health insurers through the state’s new marketplace, HealthSourceRI.
The report was written by Sean Parnell, the president of Impact Policy Management, a public policy firm in Washington, D.C. Parnell did not reveal how much he had been paid to write the report or where payment had come from, citing the policy of the R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity not to reveal its sources of support.
Parnell previously served as president at the Center for Competitive Politics and vice-president of The Heartland Institute, which challenged the scientific evidence for global warming. At the Center for Competitive Politics, Parnell had been very active with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“It should come as no surprise that yet another government-centric approach to health care, such as the Affordable Care Act, will not achieve the ‘near’ universal results it was broadcast to produce,” the report’s summary said.
When asked about projections from Steven Costantino, secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, who has suggested that 20,000 to 30,000 of the 50,000 newly eligible Rhode Islanders would become enrolled under the expanded Medicaid eligibility in the first year, Parnell said he did not want to get into an argument about whose numbers were correct.
“It’s his crystal ball versus my Magic Eight Ball,” Parnell told Providence Business News. “They are all projections; he’ll be right or I’ll be right, or the numbers will be somewhere in between.”
In particular, Parnell cited statistics around the group he called “The Young Invincibles,” individuals between the ages of 21 and 30, estimating that between 15,000 and 31,750 in Rhode Island would remain without health insurance because “they simply do not see value in the insurance products being made available to them.”
When told about a recent interview with a member of that age group, a restaurant worker, who had said he was very excited about the prospect of being able to purchase health insurance through the new Rhode Island marketplace, Parnell expressed doubt that the restaurant worker would be able to find an affordable health plan package.
Parnell’s report also predicted that up to 11,000 employees could lose their current health insurance as a result of health care reform. He also cited 17,000 Rhode Islanders who are “undocumented immigrants” who will not received coverage under health care reform.
Parnell did not offer any specific solutions to the problem of the uninsured, saying that he was writing another paper proposing private-market solutions, which would be forthcoming in the next month.
In turn, Parnell said that outreach efforts now under way by community health centers in Rhode Island to help enroll uninsured in expanded Medicaid coverage or purchase health insurance through HealthSourceRI was a worthwhile initiative.
Ian Lang, communications director at HealthSourceRI, countered Parnell’s arguments., saying the data from Massachusetts indicates that the number of uninsured will decrease over time.
“Where we have real-life data from Massachusetts, it has shown that 98 percent of the state’s residents have health insurance,” he said. “Over time, people are going to get health insurance in Rhode Island.”
Lang said that new, innovative health plan products would be introduced during the second year, beginning in Jan. 1, 2015, building upon the options available in the first year.