The safety net

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Category : General, Medical Rants

Health Leaders Seek Consensus Over Uninsured

At a time when Congress has been torn by partisan battles, 24 ideologically disparate leaders representing the health care industry, corporations and unions, and conservative and liberal groups have been meeting secretly for months to seek a consensus on proposals to provide coverage for the growing number of people with no health insurance.

The participants, ranging from the liberal Families USA to the conservative Heritage Foundation and the United States Chamber of Commerce, said they had made progress in trying to overcome the ideological impasse that has stymied action on the problem for eight years.

The group, which first came together last October, has not endorsed any specific plan, but has discussed a range of options, including tax incentives for the purchase of insurance, changes in Medicaid to cover more low-income adults and the creation of insurance purchasing pools at the state level.

“This effort holds as much promise as any I’ve participated in over the last decade, probably more,” said Kate Sullivan Hare, the executive director of health care policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Historically, such efforts have failed because of profound disagreements over the proper role of government. The group is far from any final agreement, but persists in seeking common ground, even as the problems of the uninsured have been eclipsed on Capitol Hill by Social Security and other issues.

The group also includes top executives from AARP, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Johnson & Johnson, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, Pfizer and the Service Employees International Union.

The group’s overarching goal is to agree, by the end of this year, on proposals that expand coverage to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. By meeting in secret, the group has tried to shield itself from political pressures. Some of the proposals under discussion could lead to increases in federal spending or regulation, at a time when the government already faces large deficits and Republicans generally oppose further expansion of government.

I applaud this effort. The great majority of physicians would like to see this problem solved. We do often disagree on the best solutions; we are not monolithic on financial and economic issues.

The group is considering these options:

¶The federal government could require parents to arrange health insurance for their children up to a certain age, say 21. If the children were not eligible for public programs like Medicaid, the parents could obtain tax credits to help meet the cost.

¶If an employer does not offer health benefits to employees, the workers could designate amounts to be withheld from their paychecks, along with taxes. These amounts would eventually be forwarded to insurers to pay premiums.

¶The federal government could provide tax credits to low-income individuals and families or small businesses to help them pay for insurance. The full amount of the credit would be sent directly to the insurer.

¶Medicaid could be expanded to cover any adult with income below the official poverty level (about $9,600 for an individual). Each state would decide for itself whether to do this, and the federal government would provide financial incentives for states to take the option.

¶The federal government would offer small grants to states to help them establish insurance purchasing pools. Individuals and small businesses could buy coverage through these pools.

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Comments (3)

interesting coalition! the ideas don’t sound too revolutionary, though, but i guess that’s what consensus building is about. making it a law for parents to insure their children sounds like a really ignorant idea without any means of addressing the problem – inaffordability. the other proposals might help a little. underwhelmed so far, but a noble goal

That’s all great, but, where’s the tort reform?

I would much rather see the government give tax credits than to see the government try to run an expanded program. What a nightmare!

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