Thursday, April 02, 2009

Linda Bergthold: No Recovery in Sight -- Unless We Pass Health Reform

A new study came out today from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education called 'No Recovery in Sight: Health Coverage for Working-Age Adults in the United States and California'. The report claims that half a million people in California have lost their health insurance coverage during the recession

Controversial Issues:

1. Will everyone be required to buy health insurance? If so, that's called an "individual mandate". During the campaign, then candidate Obama objected to the idea of requiring all adults to get health insurance saying that he thought people would want to buy it if it was affordable but you wouldn't have to force them to do it. The California health reform effort last year failed in part because of concerns people had about an individual mandate -- but Massachusetts has one and so far it has worked pretty well.

2. How much will we have to pay to get coverage if a bill is passed? Will it be affordable? What is affordable anyway? For many families, $500 a month for a family premium breaks the bank and keeps food off the table. No one knows the answers to these questions right now.

3. Can we reform the health insurance industry so that they can't refuse coverage if you've ever been sick? That is called "medical underwriting" and "pre-existing conditions". Last week, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the BlueCross BlueShield Association (BCBSA) wrote a letter to the president offering to drop those practices if everyone was required to have insurance. It's a start. They certainly didn't offer to do that back in 1993 when the Clintons were trying to reform health care.

4. A lot of people think that if we offer health plans to people who don't get insurance through their employers, that there ought to be a choice between a private insurance plan and some sort of publicly administered plan. That "public plan option" is being fiercely debated in Congress right now. The private insurance plans worry that they can't compete successfully with a public plan for a whole lot of reasons I won't go into here, so they are opposing it. Look for this to be huge source of debate in the next few months. But do yourself a favor -- do your homework about it and don't believe everything you hear, like it would be socialism or government telling your doctors what to do. Read about the public plan idea and see if it makes sense to you.

5. Should our health care benefits be taxed? Or should the portion our employers pay be taxed? This is a hot potato for sure. The problem with this idea is that there is a LOT of money to be collected by taxing the benefits of people who have insurance to help pay for those who do not. Very tricky.

These are just a few of the issues that will need to be resolved before we get health coverage for everyone. Despite the fact that this is complicated, all you need to do to answer your own questions is look around you -- do you know someone who has insurance but still can't get the care they need? People who are a paycheck away from losing what they have? People who have to rely on the emergency room because they have no other way to get care? If you do, then you understand the meaning of "No recovery in sight" UNLESS we pass health reform.

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