Monday, December 11, 2006

Conservative Greases Skid to Do Nothing on Healthcare

In a David Blain slight of height, a conservative columnist wrote in on how to change Texas state health plans just before our legislature meets in Austin. Someone reading could infer that Tom Aldred wants to cover more uninsureds but that would be false.

His Guest Column should have been titled “Blueprint to Save State Money while Covering Fewer People”. In it he proposes spreading aspects of the state’s high risk pool to other government provided insurance programs, Medicaid and CHIP.

Since its inception in Texas, CHIP went through several evolutions, at least one of which required greater patient contributions. The dramatic drop in coverage is well documented from a high of over 529,211 in May 2002 to December 2006’s 326,231. Over 200,000 kids were shed from the rolls applying part of what Tom suggests.

The high risk pool of which Mr. Aldred brags covers a mere 26,000 people. There are well over that many uninsureds in Tom Green County alone with our passing that number back in 1999 (according to the Texas Institute for Health Policy Research). No recent estimates exist for our county but adding seven years of higher cost sharing from both employers and CHIP certainly has not brought that number down.

Mr. Aldred’s column is intended to grease the skids for “Medicaid Modernization” in our home state. Congress passed legislation allowing states to enact premium sharing, higher deductibles and co-payments. Evidence from states applying such changes revealed large drops in the number of people covered.

One study cited the source as people could not afford “higher premiums and increased co-payments”. After sharing my concerns with Rep. Mike Conaway last fall, he wrote back bragging about the government’s effort to make Medicaid look like private health insurance. He failed to address large numbers of people likely to be shed from the rolls in the process.

Of course the answer is for people to find well paying jobs which provide health insurance as a benefit. That's easy to say, harder to do in a county with 16.7% of the population living below the poverty level. This ideal solution could be temporary as employers jump on President Bush’s favored health strategy, high deductible health plans. Clearly, both employers and the government intend to shift greater responsibility for health care to the individual. Tom Aldred applauds this move.

Recommended in his piece is the shift from taxing health insurance providers to subsidize the medically uninsurable to “a general revenue solution”. This means fees or taxes, also referred to by President Bush as “your money”.

I find it ironic that a good conservative wants “general tax revenue” to support a medical insurance program for those with uninsurable medical conditions. When does it make more sense for all the people to bear the cost of a necessary government service? Does this come from the belief, where the market won’t fulfill a need, the government should step in? That explains our federal tax dollars going to insure expensive vacation homes built along the coast and to rescue businesses bailing on their pension obligations!

The dance away from dealing with the legions of uninsureds in America continues. My question is will the newly elected Democrats join hand-in-hand with conservatives like Mr. Aldred to float window dressing, giving the public the illusion something “is being done”? How many band-aids will the Texas Legislature apply to our lost limb?

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