CONSUMERS UNION: Assails ‘Incremental’ Health Reforms
The patchwork of incremental health reforms enacted since the failure of the 1994 Clinton health plan has resulted in "two steps backward" for "each small step forward," according to a new report from Consumers Union. The study, "Blueprint for Fair Share Health Care: Incremental Steps Toward Universal Coverage," states that "the easy part of achieving health care reform is developing policy models that lead to universal coverage, the more difficult ingredients are presidential and Congressional leadership, campaign finance reform, and a powerful consumer- based grassroots movement." As a result of the lack of those key elements, "there are now about 43 million Americans with no health insurance; 31 million Americans are underinsured, facing financial catastrophe if they get sick even though they have health insurance; [and] health care costs as a percent of gross domestic product are projected to rise" from the current 14% to 17% in 2007.
What is Needed
In assessing possible models for reform, Consumers Union concludes that the following would "move us forward": "programs for early retirees and children, targeted subsidies for the unemployed and working families, a tax credit for families spending the most (as a percent of income) on health care, and expanded Medicare benefits." Changes that would "be a step backward (continuing the path of failed incrementalism)": "expanded Medical Savings Accounts, changing Medicare benefits from 'defined benefit' to 'defined contribution,' eliminating state benefit mandates (without creating a comprehensive standard benefit in their place), and exempting more insurers from state consumer protections." The report closes by stating, "We need to move from our patchwork system characterized by gaps, toward a tapestry concept that weaves together into a coherent whole the various functional parts of the system, acknowledging that we are all in this together, and interdependent" (5/24).