Steps to cut U.S. uninsured can be taken now--CEOs

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb 15 (Reuters) - America’s growing ranks of 47 million people without medical insurance could be thinned dramatically by tapping health programs already operating, leading health executives said on Friday.

With health care reform a dominant issue in the U.S. presidential race, the chief executives of big health insurers Aetna Inc AET.N and WellPoint Inc WLP.N said the candidates had so far provided insufficient details about their proposals for clear judgments to be made.

But the executives said much can be done now with existing programs to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance coverage.

“Twenty percent of the uninsured are actually eligible today for Medicaid and the state children’s health program. They simply aren’t enrolled,” Aetna CEO Ron Williams said in an interview at a meeting of the Business Council group of corporate leaders.

Aetna, the No. 3 health insurer, urges local community leaders and officials to identify and bring more of the eligible uninsured into the Medicaid programs aimed at poor people, Williams said.

“If we did a better job at that, we could reduce the uninsured by 20 percent,” Williams said.

College students account for 10 percent of the 47 million and could be easily and relatively cheaply enrolled for health care insurance, Williams said.

“States like Massachusetts, for example, actually have done a good job of covering them,” Williams said. “They have what’s called a hard waiver, meaning that, when you enroll in college, you either have to demonstrate you have coverage or purchase coverage as part of the academic experience.”

Angela Braly, president and chief executive at WellPoint, the No. 1 U.S. health insurer by membership, said in an interview that her company wanted state programs aimed at children and low-income families to be widely expanded.

WellPoint, whose health networks operate in many states under the Blue Cross and Blue Shield names, has forecast that broadening those programs could cut the uninsured by 25 million if all 50 states acted.

“All children should be covered,” Braly added.

The company also advocates public-private partnerships that could help subsidize insurance costs for low-income individuals now ineligible for government programs. (Editing by Andre Grenon)