Health insurance for all on horizon?

by Lesley Politi on December 11, 2008

Health insurance for all on horizon?

Plan might allow all Americans access to affordable health insurance, as our lawmakers have.

Monday, December 08, 2008


America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group representing almost 1,300 health insurers, last week proposed a plan to reduce medical costs and use the savings — $500 million over five years — to achieve universal coverage. That, as they said, is a “bold target.”

Unfortunately, the health insurers did not offer specific ways to reduce rising medical costs that they projected at 6.6 percent a year. Instead, they proposed a public-private panel be established by Congress to find ways to reduce rising health care costs.

But the insurers are right to put a spotlight on the need to get a grip on those rising costs and not just extend coverage to the uncovered.

One aspect of their proposal will generate controversy within the states — to let insurers offer an “essential benefits” policy effective in all states at an affordable price and not subject to individual state mandates for covering this medical procedure or that test.

With lower medical costs and tighter policy requirements, they could provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions — if everyone is required to purchase health insurance, with help from tax credits. Employers could still offer health insurance, and the coverage of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs would have to be extended, the insurers say.

The insurers are not acting out of a sudden burst of compassion; they know that President-elect Barack Obama intends to make broadening health insurance coverage a major priority, and a Democratic Congress is likely to take action of some kind in 2009.

The insurers also know that, with a recession on, a growing number of Americans are more worried about finding themselves unemployed and uninsured than they are about the horrors of “socialized medicine.”

And Americans who see their top leaders, whether in Congress or the Legislature, arranging affordable health insurance for themselves — and their adult, independent children — with taxpayer dollars have reason to ask why they can’t get it, too.

The question comes up in Austin as well as Washington.

Last week, a Democratic activist filed an ethics complaint against Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican, in part for carrying his 30-something daughter, Christi Craddick, on his state health insurance. Christi Craddick, a lawyer and not married, is paid $12,000 a month from campaign donations to help handle her father’s political operation.

The Craddicks aren’t discussing her health insurance coverage, and the state’s Employee Retirement System cannot comment.

But a 1997 state law allows parents on state health insurance to cover any child “who is unmarried, regardless of age.” ERS says the policyholder pays the premium for such a “child” and that no taxpayer money is involved.

Still, the fact that such coverage would be written into state law points to an awareness by lawmakers that sometimes even adult children who are working may not be able to get, or afford, health insurance on their own.

And that’s the problem with too many of the one out of four Texans who don’t have health insurance — they can’t get it or can’t afford it. It looks like the nation, including the insurers, are finally going to move beyond talking about this national problem.


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