April 07, 2006


Massachusetts made headlines this week with its new health care plan, which aims at universal coverage by essentially requiring it. The program involves federal, state and private insurance programs. The jury is still out on the legislation. Moving towards universal coverage is a good thing, and the program appears to do a good job of covering low income families. However, some groups have expressed concern that the cost of the plan will fall hardest on working and middle income families.

While state progress in health care, such as that recently made in West Virginia, is important, ultimately the federal government needs to play a positive role. This is unfortunately unlikely in the immediate future, given the current administration and leadership in Congress. The administration's beloved Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), this year's version of Social Security Privatization, would only make health care less available and more expensive for those who need it most.

Meanwhile, the lack of universal coverage is causing problems for individuals, families, and businesses across the country. A few numbers:

*Nearly 46 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, lack health insurance, a number that has increased annually since 2000. Many more have bad or unaffordable coverage;

*Around 250,000-290,000 West Virginians, mostly working age adults, are uninsured;

*As many as 18,000 Americans die unnecessarily each year because they lack appropriate health care, according to the Institute of Medicine.

*The United States spends more of its gross domestic product (GDP), 16 percent in 2004, on its inefficient health care system that other industrialized nations--and gets less for it;

*US businesses spent $448.3 billion on health benefits in 2004;

*The lack of universal care makes it difficult for US businesses to compete. In the auto industry, health care costs account for $1,500 of the price of each care made. By contrast, according to former Senator Tom Daschle in the current Business Week, "BMW pays $450 per car in Germany and Honda $150 in Japan."

Talk about a goat rope...

The market god isn't going to solve this problem, but democracy might.


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