May 28, 2005


Health Leaders Seek Consensus Over Uninsured (ROBERT PEAR, 5/29/05, NY Times)

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. [...]

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.

Though federal policymakers talk little about the issue these days, the problems of the uninsured have been gaining urgency among people who provide and pay for health care, including employers.

Increasingly, business executives say, health care costs hurt the global competitiveness of American companies. "This is a crisis," General Motors said in its latest annual report, noting that its health costs - $5.2 billion last year - had "a tremendous impact" on its profitability. [...]

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.

Asked what had prompted the initiative, Stuart M. Butler, the vice president of the Heritage Foundation, said: "It's a coalition built of frustration. True believers on the left and the right have been stymied on this issue."

If they can come up with some reasonably balanced proposals they provide both parties all kinds of cover to do some stuff their bases won't necessarily like.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 28, 2005 4:24 PM

--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.--

The 19-21 y.o. college student:

Many of the uninsured are in fact college students, who either rely on their parents, or are covered under their parents' policies, read here. One estimate suggests that one out of seven college students lacks insurance, but it is hard to believe that most of these people have no other resources supporting them.

Via Marginal Revolution from 2003.

Posted by: Sandy P. at May 28, 2005 5:24 PM

We're going to need something if we want to keep providing services at the same level of care and quality.

We could easily slash U.S. health care expenditures in half, if we wanted to go back to a 1950s level of care.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at May 29, 2005 1:12 AM

We've plenty of money, but it makes no sense to waste it on unneeded medical expenses. Paying out of your own pocket would get rid of most of the problem.

Posted by: oj at May 29, 2005 1:37 AM