Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Universal Health Coverage

Are we getting one step closer to the much debated universal health coverage plan? If you look at what is happening in Taxachussetts you might believe we are about to achieve nirvana (the altered state, not the band). Perhaps there is a rift in the universe, especially since this concept is being promoted by Republican governor Mitt Romney.

Let’s parse this out and see what happens.

Currently, people without health insurance often go to hospitals and receive care they never pay for, because the hospital and the state pick up the tab. Under Romney's proposal, uninsured Massachusetts residents would be asked to enroll in a plan when they seek care.

ASKED to enroll. Sounds simple enough but where is the stick?

If they refuse, the state could recoup the medical costs in several ways, Romney said yesterday: The state might cancel the personal tax exemption on their state income taxes, which is worth about $175

Well that certainly has me quaking in my boots. Buy health insurance or pay a penalty of $175 per year.

So what kind of coverage does one get for such a low price?

Romney said he wants to make healthcare coverage less expensive by permitting private insurers to offer low-cost policies with scaled-back benefits.

Low cost policies with scaled back benefits. Of course this ignores the fact that such policies already exist and are offered direct to the public and via payroll deduction in the worksite.

The plans have nominal benefits but do little or nothing to cover things like medicine, major medical expenses and maternity. Medicine can easily run $2,000 per month and more when fighting serious illness. A major illness or accident can reach $50,000 in a matter of days. Maternity costs can be easily managed but this ignores the fact that in many states upwards of HALF of all maternity care is currently funded by taxpayers through the Medicaid system.

Massachusetts spends more than $1 billion a year on medical care for the uninsured through its ''uncompensated care pool," and Romney argued that simply redirecting that money would pay for his plan. He said those dollars will go further if everybody has insurance, because they will see their doctors for preventive care instead of visiting emergency rooms in a crisis.

A “low cost” plan that does not cover Rx, major claims and maternity will do little or nothing to reduce the roll of the taxpayer in covering uninsured claims.

We will continue to watch as this develops but at this point I can only conclude . . . it must be an election year . . .
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