Monday, April 13, 2009

A Health-Care Plan That Could Bridge the Divide

“So there's a consensus to act. The Senate Finance Committee plans a series of open discussions and private meetings that are to culminate in work on a bill in June. But there's a wide gap between left and right on how exactly to craft a new approach. That's where Messrs. Wyden and Bennett enter the picture. Besides their both being tall and lanky, they would seem to have little in common. Mr. Bennett is a 75-year-old with a generally conservative voting record who was a successful businessman before coming to Washington. Mr. Wyden is a 59-year-old with a generally liberal voting record who was an activist for senior citizens before coming to Washington. Virtually every American -- those in Medicare and the military would be excepted -- would be required to acquire a health-coverage policy for themselves and their children. Each state would create a pool of comprehensive private insurance policies for its residents to choose from. Families at or below the poverty line would have the full cost of their policies covered by the government. Those above the poverty line would get a smaller subsidy, which would phase out for families with incomes at 400% of the poverty line and above. In this new world, one crucial difference is that individuals would be in charge of picking their own health plans, rather than relying on their employers to do it for them. Employers still could provide insurance if they wanted to, but otherwise they would be required to turn over to each employee, in the form of tax-free dollars, the amount of money they now pay to buy that employee health coverage. Employers wouldn't be off the hook entirely, though. They would pay a fee -- a tax, really -- for each employee to help fund those federal subsidies to help families buy their policies. Philosophically, the goal of the Wyden-Bennett approach is to use the power of government to guarantee coverage, while putting individuals in charge of their own health plans. Putting individuals in charge and having everybody covered, it's hoped, would inject more competition into the system, which should help hold down costs and improve quality. Policies would be portable as people move from job to job, or even from employment to unemployment.”

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