Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bush’s Goal on Uninsured, Get Back to 2002

The President’s second signature plan to reduce the number of people in the U.S. without health insurance is projected to reduce the 46.6 million without coverage by 5 to 10%. A ten percent reduction would bring the total down to 42 million, which still seems like a scandalously large number. It happens to be the same number our country passed sometime in 2002, the same year President Bush introduced his first signature strategy to address the problem, personal health accounts. If his first plan resulted in an increase of 4.6 million without coverage, how might his follow up initiative work?

1. It will give a tax break to millions of Americans already with health insurance coverage. Huh? Isn’t the aim to get more people covered?

2. It may encourage insurance companies to quickly raise prices to meet that magical $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for families for what Bush considers a non “gold plated” plan.

3. It may give employers the incentive to drop health insurance as a benefit thus shifting the responsibility to the one getting the tax break, the individual. Some 160 million people are covered by their employee benefits.

4. It will give some 5 million people who buy their own coverage and make over $50,000 a year a significant tax break. They save $2,500 on individual coverage and $5,000 on family coverage.

When President Bush calls for bold action to address the uninsured, this isn’t it. However, it is bold action for insurance companies wanting to sell more profitable individual policies with less coverage. It also greases the skids for employers wanting to dump that dreaded health insurance benefit.

As usual Bush leaves out hospitals carrying the burden of caring for the uninsured. He plans to shift $30 billion in federal support for such facilities to states wanting to innovate in covering more people. If Bush gets his way there should be 42 million left for the states to wrestle over.

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