My overall reaction to the president’s State of the Union message last evening is best left unstated except for one item – health insurance - which was the major domestic proposal in his speech.
Jim Webb, the freshman senator from Virginia who delivered the Democratic rebuttal spoke to the economic injustice of this (and other) Bush initiatives. Noting that corporate profits may be reaching new highs, but that those increases benefit a tiny proportion of Americans, Mr. Webb said:
“It’s almost as if we are living in two different countries. The middle class of this country – our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future – is losing its place at the table.”
This is not news. The rich have been getting richer at a dramatically increased rate and at the expense of the middle and lower classes for six years. But there is a fighting chance with the Democrats in control of Congress that we can at least stem the tide of the economic wasting away of all but the richest segment of Americans.
But first, we must stop the flow of money from the poor to the rich and the president’s health insurance proposal is nothing more than another tax deduction for the rich. Here is a simplified, general idea of how it would work:
- The cost of employer-provided “basic” health insurance (half of Americans are insured in this manner) would show up on workers’ W-2 statements as taxable income which has never been done before.
- Such employees would be granted a new standard tax deduction - $7500 for individuals and $15,000 for families. For those whose health insurance coverage costs less than the deductions, their taxes would be lowered.
- This program would raise taxes, however, for those with what the White House calls “gold-plated” insurance plans (about 30 million people) unless they choose a less costly alternative.
- Those who purchase their own, individual, health coverage are subject to the same standard deduction or rise in tax as people with employee-funded insurance.
Mr. Bush said this plan also helps the 47 million people (including 11 million children) who currently have no health coverage:
“For the millions of American who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan with their reach,” said Mr. Bush. “Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans.”
What fantasyland does Mr. Bush live in. This is one of the most embarrassing, Marie Antoinette statements I’ve ever heard come out of a politician’s mouth.
The current average cost of health coverage for a family of four is between $11,000 and $12,000 per year. How does this tax code change help a family with a minimum wage income, or even double minimum wage income? When you are earning $30,000 or $35,000 a year, you cannot afford $11,000 a year for insurance with or without a tax deduction.
Even before Mr. Bush delivered the speech, White House spokespersons acknowledged that this proposal would help only 3 million of the one-sixth of Americans who are currently uninsured and I am skeptical of that number.
The other disturbing aspect of this plan is the taxing of so-called “gold-plated” health plans. It is my experience that such insurance reduces astronomical deductibles and covers health needs such as physical therapy or home nursing, etc. for longer periods of time than “basic” coverage.
That’s not “gold-plated.” That’s what everyone should be covered for. I’ve always wondered what happens to people who, for example, need additional physical therapy to improve, but cannot afford it when their coverage runs out.
The bottom line in president’s proposal is that those who can afford to purchase health coverage get a deduction, and those who cannot afford health coverage remain uninsured.
Recently, Governor Romney of Massachusetts and Governor Schwarzneggar of California have taken steps toward supplying the residents of their states with universal coverage. Although both proposals are patches on a bad system, they are moves in the right direction that should be coming from the federal government, not individual states.
The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without universal health coverage. Whenever it is brought up, opponents run around like chickens with their heads cut off yelling, “Oh, no, socialized medicine. Oh no. Oh, no. We can’t have socialized medicine.”
Please. We already have socialized medicine. It’s called Medicare. It’s not perfect – no system is - but it works quite well for everyone in the U.S. who is 65 and older, and it works a whole lot better than the private medical system we have for everyone else.
When one-sixth of a nation that is supposedly the richest on earth and likes to think of itself as the most democratic and fair country on earth, cannot afford even a flu shot or a checkup once a year for 47 million citizens, it is shameful. And so is any leader who proposes anything less that full coverage for everyone.