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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Drink to good health in the Commonwealth

    Imagine a government that guarantees health care for every one of its citizens. You might picture just about any Third World country or Canada, but the U.S. would be conspicuously absent.

    Fixing America’s health care system is an immensely complex task; any attempt is sure to yield an array of critics. With Congress so divided on just about everything lately, imposing a federal health care plan on all states would be nearly impossible.

    It would be more realistic to expect individual states to attempt to provide health insurance for their residents, but that would represent a similarly challenging attempt to solve our national health care crisis.

    On April 4, a serious effort to improve our deplorable health care system was undertaken by way of the Massachusetts Legislature’s approval of a health care plan that will expand coverage to the state’s 500,000 uninsured.

    The plan, a culmination of years of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, was approved 154-2 in the House and 37-0 in the Senate.

    In Massachusetts, the uninsured fall into three categories. The first 100,000 are those who qualify for Medicaid but haven’t yet signed up; this group has already been significantly reduced through a new computer system that uses patients’ Social Security numbers to automatically enroll people who qualify for Medicaid. The second and third groups consist of people who are not poor enough for Medicaid but can’t afford to buy insurance and people who can afford to buy insurance but just don’t. The state plans to shrink the size of these groups through a mix of penalties and subsidies.

    The solution to making health insurance more accessible to everyone is to make it more affordable. Part of the Massachusetts plan’s appeal is the variety of insurance packages available, such as low-cost options with high deductibles designed for residents between 19 to 26 years of age.

    Moreover, private insurers will offer subsidized insurance to those who can’t afford regular packages. Individuals will be allowed to buy health insurance with pre-tax dollars, just as corporations currently can. Those who don’t will be penalized through the tax code and then fined about half of what purchasing health insurance would have cost them.

    Unless Gov. Mitt Romney vetoes the bill’s extremely modest big-business fee, employers that don’t already offer medical benefits to their employees will also be fined – $295 per employee. While this fine is arguably too low, the precedent it establishes and the fact that the corporate world agreed to it are more important. A health insurance “”exchange”” will relieve small business from the burden of conducting complicated negotiations with insurers. Now, employees will be able to choose any plan approved by the state-backed exchange, and their premiums will be deducted from their pay checks.

    Every individual should be personally responsible for his or her own health insurance, instead of forcing the state to pay for it in times of emergency. By offering the less fortunate subsidized insurance, the state is acknowledging the fact that some people just can’t afford it and is making it more attainable. However, subsidizing inexpensive or even free policies from private insurers may cost the state in the long run, even though Romney says it’s compensated for by the $1 billion Massachusetts now pays by giving free health care to the uninsured.

    The success of the Massachusetts health care plan will be watched closely. But as Hillary Rodham Clinton discovered during Bill’s health care campaign in the 1992 election, America’s health care crisis can’t be fixed all at once. Requiring that all adults have health insurance, and then providing ways to reduce the cost of it, is a novel concept with enormous potential. This plan is the first step in creating substantial progress down the long road of insuring the 46 million Americans who continue to live without health insurance.


    Yusra Tekbali is a junior majoring in journalism and Near Eastern studies. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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