UNINSURED: Health Care System ‘Fatally Flawed,’ Thomas Says
Speaking at a forum on the uninsured at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday, House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA) called the employer-based health care system "fatally flawed," CongressDaily/A.M. reports. He said that last week's debate over patients' rights stemmed from "efforts to fix the flawed structure." Thomas restated his hope to have universal coverage with a system of tax breaks and subsidies, but he argued that trying to resolve the health care issue in relationship to employment would put us on "a slippery slope to the government running not just health insurance, but the entire health system." Thomas has yet to unveil his plan to create a "more individual-based system," which has been in the works for more than a year. He noted that he would be willing to take "incremental steps, such as tax credits or even deductions," until a plan for universal coverage can be implemented (Rovner, 10/14).
Back So Soon?
With Former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Vice President Al Gore and "an unlikely cadre of health care organizations" talking about it, the "problem of the uninsured is again near the top of the national agenda," Julie Rovner writes in her HealthMatters/CongressDaily/A.M. column. The uninsured issue has cropped up again, "just five years after pundits predicted that the issue would not re-emerge seriously for another generation." Illustrating the urgency of the issue, a January conference backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and organized by seven health organizations -- including the Health Insurance Association of America and Families USA, which took opposing stances on Clinton's health care reform in 1994 -- has been scheduled to provide a forum for each organization to present and discuss plans to provide coverage to more of the uninsured. While the same percentage of taxpayers are willing to pay more to help the uninsured now compared to 1994, Rovner writes that it is "easy to agree that the uninsured [is] a big problem we should do something about ... but may well be even harder than people originally thought." Citing a recent Center for Studying Health System Change study which found that nearly 20% of the uninsured actually could receive coverage through their employers, but opted not to because they could not afford their share of the premiums, Rover indicates that the "obvious answer is to subsidize those people." She argues that "for fairness' sake, the subsidy would have to go to everyone in the same income group," particularly the 80% who do opt into the employer-based plan. Following last week's release of the Census Bureau's statistics, which found the number of uninsured increased, President Clinton "could not resist using the occasion to razz Congress for not passing" his 1994 health plan. However, Rovner points out that most of those who lost their coverage did not come from employer-based plans. Rather, they came from the ranks who lost Medicaid coverage under the 1996 welfare reform law. On the issue of health care reform and the uninsured, Rovner concludes that it is "still early, but someone is going to have to work hard to wrest the foot-in-mouth award of the month away from Clinton" (10/14).