Saturday, January 17, 2009

Health Care Promise in Stimulus Package..

President Obama is trying to deliver another of his promises, even if only partial. At least it is a step in the right direction. Part of the stimulus package, about 39 Billion it is estimated, will go to help unemployed people who are without health insurance.

A transition aide said: "Obama supports the protection of health insurance through COBRA and Medicaid in a time-limited way." Taken together, the insurance for children and laid-off workers signifies an effort by Democrats to create momentum for the more difficult work of broad health reforms that they and the Obama administration plan to undertake soon.

This is wonderful. It is a step in the right direction toward getting health care for all of us.

The Medicaid proposal would give assistance through 2010 and would break with significant features of the program created as part of the Great Society of the 1960s. Medicaid always has been a shared financial responsibility of the U.S. government and the states. But under the proposal, federal money would pay for all benefits and administrative costs for unemployed people who joined. In addition, the expansion would be the largest step ever taken beyond Medicaid's original purpose of insuring people who are poor or disabled. There is precedent in recent years for opening Medicaid in times of crisis -- for some New York residents after 9/11 and for people who fled communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina -- but not on the scale envisioned now.

This would be great. Most states have cut Medicaid funding, it seems. I know it was cut here in Missouri under our Republican Governor and his co-horts in the Republican led congress. They decided since they needed to cut spending somewhere why not to the poor and disabled who only depend on the health care.

Another part of the subsidy would provide assistance for people who want to keep the insurance they had at their job. This plan would help them pay their insurance premiums under what is known now as COBRA.

House leaders said the COBRA proposal would subsidize for one year 65 percent of the price of premiums for private insurance that laid-off workers bought. According to legislative sources, that level of help could ultimately change, depending on feedback from congressional budget analysts.

For the past two decades, COBRA has guaranteed that certain laid-off workers may, if they pay for it, continue the insurance they used to get through work -- usually for 18 months. But the government has never helped them afford it, and coverage is expensive. Under COBRA, employers may charge former workers 100 percent of the insurance cost -- an average of about $12,000 a year for a family -- plus a small surcharge.

Research has shown that a small fraction of people eligible for COBRA buy it. A study released last week by Families USA, a liberal consumer health lobby, said COBRA is "an economic impossibility" for most people, because its typical costs would use up nearly 84 percent of the average unemployment benefits.

The twin ideas, preliminarily estimated to cost $39 billion through the end of next year, would represent sharp departures in two long-standing programs and already are sparking debate along the ideological continuum on Capitol Hill and beyond. In Congress, several key Democratic House members and senators have endorsed the broad contours, while a few Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have signaled that they are wary. Debate, however, will not solidify until lawmakers learn more precisely how much the proposals would cost and how many people they might help.

Among outside health policy specialists, conservatives are critical of expanding an entitlement and are predicting that states would have a hard time shutting the spigot of help once the federal money stopped. Liberals are predicting that, even with the large federal investment, coverage could remain unaffordable for too many people.

The ideas' boldness reflects a precipitous rise in the uninsured. Recent estimates suggest that worsening unemployment, which reached 7.2 percent last month, translates into a loss of health coverage for an additional 2.6 million people. That increase, on top of the estimated 45 million uninsured, is exacerbating a persistent problem in the U.S. health-care system: too many people who lack access to proper care.

We need to get this passed as part of the stimulus package. This would be a great step forward and would show people what could be done. The biggest stumbling block as shown above is going to be the Republicans. So if you have a Republican Senator or Congressman in your state or district you need to write or call them and let them know you support this.

Even if you don't need this, think about it... someone else might. We need to think about the bigger picture here. We need to think about others and what our neighbors need.

Reference: Washington Post

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