UNINSURED: ‘What About Health Care For The Poor?’
An op-ed in today's Washington Post notes that despite a booming economy and moderation of health care costs, more Americans are uninsured today than in 1992 when health care reform was at the top of the nation's agenda. The authors -- Urban Institute Senior Fellow Marilyn Moon and National Public Radio reporter Joanne Silberner -- discuss several health care trends that could put health care back on the front burner. One is the fact that "health insurance prices are beginning to go up again. And hospitals, squeezed by managed care, are threatening to close down their emergency rooms, where many of the uninsured go to get medical care." In addition, they point out that businesses are shifting more and more "health insurance costs onto workers," leading many employers to drop coverage altogether. But most importantly, the authors note: "A recession could dramatically cut access to health care. The last recession accelerated what had been a slow increase in the number of uninsured: Between 1991 and 1993, the number of uninsured jumped by 3 million. And though the increase has slowed since, the numbers continue to rise."
Moon and Silberner write that elected officials have failed to introduce comprehensive legislation aimed at addressing the uninsured problem. Instead, they are focused on incremental changes, such as a GOP plan to provide "tax breaks for individuals and small business owners who buy health insurance." One exception, they note, is Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) bill to "require employers with more than 50 workers to offer health insurance" -- a measure that has so far failed to draw a Senate cosponsor. The authors conclude: "It took Lyndon Johnson's bullheadedness and deal-making ability to get the legislation that established Medicare. ... At the moment, no political leader is building the coalition to do something about the uninsured. There are no bipartisan plans. And there's little pressure from the public: Polls show that health care has slipped as a cause of concern. In his 1989 inaugural address, President George Bush said, 'We have more will than wallet' to deal with social problems. Today we have the wallet but, evidently, not the will" (6/29).