With the various proposals on health care reform floating around between the White House and Capitol Hill, the Obama administration on Wednesday provided the public with an opportunity to live chat with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

DeParle was asked some important questions about the President's plan for reform, which the White House posted on Monday.

Here's a breakdown of her answers on health care hot topics...

 

- If I have insurance, will my taxes go up to pay for others?

DeParle admits that if you're considered to earn a higher-than-average salary, you could end up paying more. "For very high income people there could be an additional tax that you'll be paying. Some of that will go back to helping to cover everyone." But DeParle suggests that covering everybody is a win-win situation.  She points to people who are currently covered who have been paying a hidden tax on behalf of those who don't have insurance. Under the Obama proposal, she says, those who currently have insurance will benefit because they will no longer have to pay for others who don’t.

 

- What about the middle class? We pay a fortune for insurance every month but we're not poverty stricken. Will reform help the middle class?

Bottom line: DeParle says the answer is "yes."

"As everyone gets covered we can reform the insurance markets and bring down the costs for everybody."

 

- Why not allow insurance companies to compete along state lines?

DeParle says the White House plan does allow insurance companies to compete, but that it sets standards.  "Some people when they talk about this they just want it to be opened up in the wild, wild West.  But in fact, this market needs a little regulation."  DeParle pointed to the recent rate hikes experienced by consumers in California, where Anthem Blue Cross raised premiums by as much as 39%. The White House plan suggests the establishment of a temporary board that would regulate prices and allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to force insurance companies to change their rates.

 

- Will insurance companies be able to deny for preexisting conditions?
Short answer: No. "We have to get everyone covered so that the markets work and that people with preexisting conditions can get coverage at an affordable rate."

 

- Where will you get the money for health reform?

"The funding comes from - in Medicare - driving down the unwarranted subsidies that go to Medicare Advantage plans. Also some other Medicare changes around making sure that hospitals reduce unnecessary readmissions." DeParle adds that incentives for hospitals to provide better care can reduce Medicare spending.

Almost $20 billion over the course of 10 years will come from administrative changes, DeParle said; for example, such changes include reducing the number of forms people fill out and improving health information technology.  Some funding will come from the so-called "Cadillac tax" which is an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans.

 

- How much will the average person have to pay for this? Will it increase or decrease costs that are already out there?

DeParle said emphatically that the White House plan will decrease costs that already exist. She pointed to the fact that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has yet to "score" the President's proposal, though the CBO has examined the costs of the Senate bill, which is what the Obama bill is modeled after.  DeParle touted a savings of 14-20% in the individual markets and 5-8% in the small group markets.

DeParle admit that she isn't in a position to give exact premium numbers, but said that "the underlying bill that this is based on, the premiums are much more affordable."