Health Summit Cheat Sheet
A glossary of health reform words, phrases, and slogans.
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On Feb. 25 President Obama will host, from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., a bipartisan meeting on health care reform at Blair House, across the street from the White House. (A final, updated guest list is here.) The meeting will be televised on C-Span, and it is your patriotic duty to watch it (or at least catch a highlight reel later on). If you do, you'll hear quite a lot of impenetrable jargon; familiar words and phrases used in unfamiliar ways; and obviously coded messages that you may have some difficulty deciphering. To help you understand the proceedings, Slate provides the following cheat sheet—part glossary, part encyclopedia, and part devil's dictionary.
Actuarial value. The percentage of health care costs covered by an insurance plan. For example, a health plan with an actuarial value of 0.80 is one that covers 80 percent of health care costs.
Adverse selection. In health insurance, the tendency of unhealthy policyholders to drive away healthy ones by raising health insurance costs. (See "Death spiral.")
Anthem. Short for Anthem Blue Cross, a unit of WellPoint, which is one of the nation's five biggest for-profit health insurers. Anthem made itself a whipping boy of the Obama administration this month by announcing it would raise its premiums by up to 39 percent. To quiet the ruckus it agreed to postpone the increases by two months. Anthem got spanked in a House hearing Feb. 24.
Antitrust exemption. Insurers enjoy an antitrust exemptionthanks to a 1945 bill sponsored by Sen. Pat McCarran, D-Nev. After the health-insurance lobby trashed the Senate health reform bill, Democrats sought revenge by removing the exemption, and now the White House has endorsed it. The House voted yesterday to repeal it, 406-19. Although insurers oppose this, they aren't terribly worked up about it because the likelihood of antitrust action against insurers is remote. Even most House Republicans voted for repeal in the House.
Baucus, Max. Democratic senator from Montana and chairman of the Senate finance committee. Baucus tried to get bipartisan support for his health reform bill well past the point when it was obvious he wouldn't get it (see "Gang of Six"). In the end the only Republican who voted aye in committee was Sen. Olympia Snowe, who later voted against the bill on the Senate floor.
"Bending the cost curve." The favored health reform catchphrase for slowing the rate of health care spending. Sometimes it refers to private health spending, and sometimes it refers to government health spending. Often the person using the catchphrase isn't sure which he means.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of President Obama by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.