New ‘Broad Coalition’ Seeks National Action on Uninsured
A broad coalition of business, union, consumer, medical and insurer organizations will kick off a campaign tomorrow to gain support for "new national measures" to reduce the number of uninsured, the New York Times reports. The coalition -- whose members range from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO -- will run television and print advertisements that call attention to the problem of the uninsured, a topic that is of concern to providers, businesses and workers alike, according to the Times. Because health costs have risen faster than the rate of inflation, and the nation's economy has slipped into recession, at least two million people have lost their health coverage in the past 13 months. Health economists, the Times reports, now say that at least 40.4 million Americans were uninsured as of Jan. 31. Employers are concerned that premiums will rise rapidly as hospitals raise fees to compensate for caring for more uninsured patients; union officials worry that employers will reduce employee health benefits or increase cost-sharing; and consumer advocates say that the rising number of uninsured could "accelerate a trend already underway of shifting costs from health plans to elderly and sick plan members." Kate Sullivan, health policy director for the Chamber of Commerce, said, "Everybody pays into the system to pay for the uninsured. We can't afford to let this go on." The Times reports that the problem will likely worsen, at least in the short term. Dr. Henry Simmons, president of the National Coalition on Health Care, said he expected an additional six million people will become uninsured by the end of the year. Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that the number of uninsured people rises about one-half percent for each percentage point increase in the number of unemployed.
Not all members of the new coalition are united in their prescriptions for reducing the number of uninsured. Business groups are supportive of President Bush's fiscal year 2003 budget proposal, which calls for $89 billion over 10 years in tax credits to help the uninsured purchase individual coverage, as well as $3.2 billion in unused CHIP money to be distributed to states. But consumer groups, including Families USA, say the tax credits are too small to be effective. Instead of a uniform approach, the coalition is calling on Congress to offer an "array of other proposals" to reduce the uninsured. "The administration has put out a good challenge. I'd love to see this get into a bidding war," Sullivan said. The other groups participating in the campaign include: The Business Roundtable, the Service Employees International Union, the American Nurses Association, the American Medical Association, the Health Insurance Association of America, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Catholic Health Association, AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Freudenheim, New York Times, 2/9).