THE UNINSURED: Business Groups Push for Health Tax Breaks
On the heels of yesterday's announcement by Aetna-U.S. Healthcare that it will offer limited, low-cost health insurance through employers, three business groups allied with Aetna are expected today to propose a program of tax breaks to help workers afford cheaper plans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors will join Aetna officials, along with former Medicare Commission Chairs Sen. John Breaux (D- LA) and Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), at a news conference "to promote the idea of expanding coverage." The Los Angeles Times reports that although Breaux and Thomas "have not offered specific legislation," their backing "would be vital to any legislative action." The business groups said they are "not endorsing the specific Aetna policy but [are] welcoming Aetna as the source of new ideas." NAWD President Dirk Van Dongen said "Aetna's approach is welcome because it offers 'a basic health care package'" (Rosenblatt, 5/5).
In related news, the Catholic Health Association yesterday challenged presidential candidates to pledge that they would make accessible and affordable health care for all a priority goal of their administrations. Rev. Michael Place, CHA president and CEO, said, "Unfortunately, those without health insurance -- who disproportionately include working women and children -- are not only marginalized from the health care delivery system, they are marginalized from the political process." Place touted several bills pending in Congress that would incrementally increase health insurance coverage, including Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Connie Morella's (R-MD) "Improved Maternal and Children's Health Coverage Act of 1999," and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and Rep. Sander Levin's (D-MI) bill to restore health benefits to legal immigrants (CHA release, 5/5).
Kerrey Weighs In
Sen. Bob Kerrey (NE), one of two Democratic lawmakers on the Medicare commission to back premium support, said yesterday that Congress needs to broaden its focus beyond Medicare reform to address universal health coverage. Speaking to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Kerrey said, "We need to say that if you're an American, that's how you get coverage. We're not Bangladesh. This is not a poor nation." Kerrey, who is eligible for Veterans' Affairs health benefits as a Vietnam veteran, said, "It bothers me that I have a claim on taxes paid by people who can't afford their own insurance." He said of the difficult task of Medicare reform, "I don't think we can get where we need to without restarting this debate" over universal health coverage. Although he advanced as one possible option rolling "Medicare, Medicaid, the VA health system, and the current tax preferences for employer-provided insurance into one huge coverage measure for everyone," he said afterwards that he did not have a specific universal coverage proposal, "and it's not likely I will" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 5/4).