BILL BRADLEY: Universal Care Plan Gets Cheers, Jeers
A news analysis piece in today's New York Times discusses some potential pitfalls of Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley's universal health insurance plan, released Tuesday. For starters, "it is far from clear that the problem can be solved as cheaply as Mr. Bradley proposed; subsidies of up to $1,800 a year may not get all that many lower-wage earners insured." A Bradley aide said, "It gets people to the door, if not the parlor." Also, the effect of opening up the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program to anyone who would like to join has yet to be ascertained. Doing so may lure more less-desireable enrollees than the current "stable, educated and above-average-income" risk pool, thereby increasing the plan's costs across the board. The Bradley plan also skirts "two major rocks that sank the Clinton program: a requirement that employers insure their workers and an effort to control costs." If employees could simply buy into FEHBP, "why should hard-pressed employers insure their workers?" But advocates of health system change were nonetheless pleased that Bradley had put such a plan on the table. Judy Feder, dean of policy studies at Georgetown University, said, "I think it's great to hear an expression of support for a move toward universal coverage, and a commitment particularly that all low-income people ought to have full government support and a recognition that it takes money to get there." Diane Rowland, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, added, "It really goes beyond some of the incremental stuff we've been looking at," and addresses the problem "in a bigger way than just hoping everyone will get insurance" (Clymer, 9/30).
From the Editorial Pages
- Washington Post: "The health issue's fresh prominence is welcome. Along with the growth in inequality of American incomes, it is one of the few social problems that refuses to improve in the face of prosperity. ... Any broadening of the government's role in health risks encouraging employers to give up providing health coverage for employees. It also risks conjuring up vast new bureaucracies and raises budget questions. Mr. Bradley claims that his plan will cost $65 billion a year, and that this money can be found from the budget surplus. The truth is that the plan would probably cost more and that the budget surplus is already being spent in Congress. Mr. Bradley has boldly grabbed a big issue, but the small print of his proposal will inevitably provoke questions" (9/30).
- Philadelphia Inquirer: "It's very difficult to see how Mr. Bradley can finance his expensive plan by merely tapping non-Social Security surpluses and finding savings in the health care delivery system. And the former Senator from New Jersey admits he doesn't have a backup proposal if the economy goes south. But Mr. Bradley has made every candidate for president get ready for a debate over whether decent health care 'is a right' for all Americans, regardless of race, sex, class, age or home address. For that, he deserves much credit" (9/30).
- New York Times: "[A]t least in outline, the Bradley plan is politically smarter [than the Clinton plan]. It would not set up a new bureaucracy to manage the medical marketplace, and it would let consumers rely on existing private or government insurance plans. The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Jim Nicholson, said the Bradley plan would lead to 'higher taxes,' and the burden is on Mr. Bradley to show that his subsidies for insuring the poor are fiscally manageable" (9/30).
- USA Today: The plan "doesn't offer an instant trip to health care nirvana, nor even make a commitment to universal coverage. But it does restore the nation's second most pressing problem -- after long-term economic security -- to the political agenda. ... By drawing on liberal and conservative notions, Bradley's plan occupies solid ground politically. Most pointedly, it's less vulnerable to fearmongering than the Clinton plan" (9/30).
- Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, in USA Today's "Opposing View" column: "Bradley refuses to take on the greedy insurance companies, HMOs, hospitals and doctors responsible for this mess. Instead, he would hand HMOs $193 billion from Medicaid and $65 billion in new tax dollars to cover some of the poor and near-poor. ... Bradley's plan would just add money without cutting waste. He would duplicate past reforms that have already failed" (9/30)