THE UNINSURED: L.A. Times Offers Solutions
California must find ways to help its 7.3 million citizens without health insurance, a Los Angeles Times editorial asserts. The problem of the uninsured hurts not only those whose illnesses go untreated, but also the public at large. "Relatively minor illnesses often develop into major problems that require far more costly treatment; emergency rooms become increasingly overcrowded for insured and uninsured alike; students and working parents must stay at home to care for ailing relatives, and infectious diseases are more apt to spread untreated," the editors write. The number of California's uninsured is "growing by a nearly unmanageable 70,000 a month, bringing county health facilities in Los Angeles and other large counties close to collapse in the midst of an economic boom. The counties are legally obliged to serve as health care providers of last resort, but they can't bear the current rate of growth." The Times notes that Ventura County, for example, "will put to a vote in November a plan to use $261 million in tobacco settlement money to broaden its health care for the poor, but the initiative, which ties care to a private hospital, has run into strong objections from nonprofit providers." The editors offer two solutions:
- Extend a 50%-of-premium tax credit to small, low-wage employers, at a cost of about $200 million. "There is support for this in the Legislature but no strong concentration on passing the relevant legislation."
- Allow health insurers to offer more modest benefit packages to low-income Californians. "In recent years, legislators have required health insurers in the state to offer a wide range of specific health services -- for example, mental health care at the same benefit levels as physical health care.