Wednesday

Kennedy and Congress to Change the Way Insurance Works in America

Sen. Ted Kennedy unveiled his 651 page National Health Insurance bill on Tuesday, that would change the way insurance works in America. The plan intends to provide coverage to the estimated 50 million Americans currently without coverage. Other House Democratic leaders had an outlined proposal to submit as well, but there are few details concerning it.

Sweeping reforms are included within the Kennedy plan from an avalanche of new government rules to the possibility of limiting profits to health care providers while offering guaranteed coverage for persons with existing health problems. The bill also provides that individuals who participate in the program would be responsible for a payment of only $65 a month for coverage.

Up for consideration as to how to fund this program, Congress is discussing a first-ever tax on employer provided health benefits. Even though President Obama campaigned against just such a tax, he may be hard pressed to hold to that commitment in order to fund the plan. Obama has suggested $634 Billion in tax increases and modest spending cuts to cover a down payment on the plan and is set to outline an additional $300 Billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts. At the same time, Democrats in the House are looking to effect major changes to Medicaid that would provide a uniform benefit throughout all 50 states and increase payments to providers. Medicaid is currently the program, jointly funded by state and federal governments, that provides health coverage for the poor. I'm not sure exactly how congress is going to raise the Medicaid payout to providers while, at the same time, Obama is going to cut Medicaid expenses to pay for the plan. Come to think of it, I wonder if they know how they will do it?

Within the Kennedy plan is a provision designed to help disabled people pay for support services, theoretically allowing them to remain in their own homes instead of moving into nursing homes. To qualify, people would enroll in the program during their working years and pay premiums for at least five years in order to receive benefits. The benefit that is designed to keep them in their home is modest indeed, but stated to be not less than $50 per day. I'm not mathematician, but if I'm in a position to loose my home due to health costs, I'm not thinking 50 bucks a day is going to keep me out of a nursing home.

At the same time individuals would be able to purchase insurance through a new federally regulated national exchange, private companies would be precluded from denying coverage or charging a higher rate for anyone due to pre-existing conditions. So the government seems to believe that they can limit the profit to a private insurer, dictate the rates the insurer can charge and directly compete in the business of private enterprise without driving them out of business. To think they know otherwise would simply make them evil and I think most of the politicians I heard during their campaigns were against evil.

If you decide you would prefer to keep your current coverage (assuming the company is still in business), you will have that option. Both plans, however, require by law that all individuals purchase insurance from someone, with the exception given for those who cannot afford it. The House plan even provides an option to buy insurance provided by the government (I wonder how many senators will sign up for that?).

The one thing conspicuously absent from both bills is any detail for how to cover the cost of the programs. The estimate is that the cost could exceed $1 Trillion over 10 years. I can't remember the last time the government has ever estimated anything even close to being accurate, so I'm going out on a limb here and betting the cost will be substantially more. Even without knowing how to fund one of the largest government programs ever launched, Rep. Henry Waxman (California democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee) enthusiastically stated, "This is the year we have to do it". I suppose this is just another example of not letting a good crisis go to waste.

I realize there are more than just a few issues that need to be addressed in our current system of health care. I also understand that the least likely source of obtaining a better system is our government. I feel as though I have been seated in a roller coaster which has just left the platform. It has begun it's accent toward the top of the first rise - the highest one - that provides all the momentum for the rest of the ride and there is now no option but to hope all will go smoothly.

Double check your safety belts, hold the hand of someone close and keep your faith in God. We're in for a bumpy ride.

Leave a comment for me - I appreciate knowing how you feel.

Terry

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