Sunday :: May 29, 2005

Tired Of Waiting For Bush And GOP To Act, Big Business Works With Labor To Deal With Health Care Crisis


by Steve

The GOP successfully killed the Clinton health care bill in 1994, and since then has turned its back on the plight of the uninsured in this country for a decade now. While the GOP has failed to address health care except to make it worse in the case of Medicare, businesses large and small increasingly drown under rising health care costs. Yet the health care problem in this country involves a vicious cycle involving doctors, hospitals, HMOs, drug companies, uninsured recipients, employers, and governments.

One factor in the rising health care costs we see, aside from rising drug costs, are uninsured recipients who don't have their own health insurance and therefore their own primary care physicians. Of course there are many reasons for why individuals and families do not have health insurance, including the inability of wage earners at the lower and middle imcome brackets to keep up with costs of all types when their wages have stagnated. Regardless of the reason, the uninsured rely upon hospital ERs for primary care, thereby overtaxing hospitals and on-call physicians. As uncompensated care increases, health care providers must pass along their costs to able payors, and when matched with the profit motive of HMOs, more and more individuals and employers find themselves priced out of affording health insurance. Most of this has been plain to see for all those involved in the problem, but until the rising cost of health care became a major problem for employers over the last several years, there was little impetus to deal with a lynchpin of this problem, which is the rising level of uncompensated care stemming from more and more uninsured families and workers.

Now, with the issue of health care a probable winner for the Democrats in 2006 due to the GOP's abdication of responsibility, a diverse group of stakeholders has tired of waiting for the Bush Administration to do something and are taking matters into their own hands. And this action comes as polls show that voters want Congress and Bush to pay more attention to health care, yet Bush spends his time on the American Taliban's agenda.

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 also includes top executives from AARP, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Johnson & Johnson, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, Pfizer and the Service Employees International Union.
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.

While Bush has ignored the problem of the uninsured and has not done anything to help businesses deal with the rising cost of health care caused by the increasing number of uninsureds, and drug cost inflation, he has managed to offer worthless tax credits to people who can’t afford health insurance premiums in the first place, and has blown up the Medicare program’s solvency with his drug benefit corporate welfare program that will drain the treasury far sooner than Social Security. Democrats for their part have been in no position since the 1990’s to push any solutions of their own due to the GOP control of one or both houses of Congress.

So this disparate group of stakeholders has tired of waiting for Washington to fix this problem, and they have proceeded to explore consensus solutions on their own that can be forwarded to Congress and the White House. Their list of proposed solutions will go a ways towards reducing the ranks of the uninsured, but still will not go far enough to get adults covered, because they will only extend coverage to those up to or at the poverty level. More and more of the uninsured in this Bush economy are working adults at twice or even three times the poverty income level who have lost their health insurance coverage, or who can’t afford the premiums to get covered, something that an annual tax credit will not address. And nowhere in the list of proposed solutions is the rising cost of drugs addressed.

But this effort has great promise as an incremental step towards reducing the level of the uninsured in this country and reducing employer health care costs. And for that, both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should signal to this group that when the list of recommendations are ready to be forwarded to Congress, the Democrats will be ready to push these bipartisan solutions forward. Money will need to be found for some of these solutions, but that is something that both Reid and Pelosi can suggest be funded out of the Bush tax cuts. These proposals to solve the health care problems in the country will be delivered to the Congress just in time for the 2006 elections, making the solutions and their implementation a prime Democratic campaign theme next year.

Steve :: 10:07 PM :: Comments (8) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!