WASHINGTON -- Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan, rejecting calls for comprehensive health care reforms, said yesterday that he wants a public debate over narrowly defined tax and policy changes "that address our most urgent health care concerns."
Among them, he said, should be changes in the way the government and private insurance companies process paperwork.
Speaking to a health policy forum sponsored by Faulkner & Gray Inc., publishers of numerous health publications, Dr. Sullivan said that he planned to convene a "summit" of major insurance companies to seek ways to reduce administrative costs.
Roughly 25 cents of every health care dollar is spent on insurance overhead, according to a study by professors from the Harvard Medical School published in May by the New England Journal of Medicine. They estimated that $135 billion could be saved in health costs by eliminating the private insurance system. The General Accounting Office has estimated that insurance overhead costs roughly $67 billion a year.
Dr. Sullivan said that such studies were "flawed" and warned that the public "is being misled."
"To be sure, there are economies to be realized . . ., he said. "But some analysts today wildly exaggerate the magnitude of those savings."
Arnold Tompkins, counselor to the HHS deputy secretary, said the summit would probably begin in early November and extend into next year as a series of meetings that would eventually include consumers and health care providers.
Robert Dreyfuss, director of public affairs for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, said that holding a health policy summit with insurance companies "is absurd."
"Insurance companies are the problem, and they are lobbying with all their might to prevent their elimination from the picture," he said.