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The President’s Shameful Health Proposal

category_bug_journal2.gif 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.

Comments

You've nailed it, Ronni. This administration will propose any law, distort any number, to protect corporate interests and the privileged class. Every action they've taken has made the rich group richer. Even the prescription drug benefit for seniors was crafted to primarily benefit drug companies. The good news is that insiders in a position to know are saying this whole plan is D.O.A.

Amen, Ronni.
The man is offering a tax deduction to people who can't begin to afford the premiums; never mind if their incomes give them cause to worry about finding new tax deductions.
If the man had two brain cells and a synapse, he'd be embarrassed.

This is the same man who says he can balance the budget without raising taxes. Then he says that "entitlement" programs such as Medicare are in danger. All the while, he never mentions the reason for the budget deficit: the billions of dollars spent to get thousands of people killed in Iraq.

As a resident of NM, I want to point out that our Governor just announced himself as a candidate. He's not as high profile as Hillary or Barak, but he's done some very sensible things for the state and the country. Keep him in mind as one of the viable solutions for 2008.

A wonderful post Ronni, and one I totally agree with. I had trouble even watching the State of the Union address...the man upsets me that much. I kept peeking in and out....he's just too much to take in long doses.

I felt the same way about his health care proposal but you did the homework for the figures behind it. Thank you and the next time someone on the right defends it to me, I am forwarding them to your blog. I never trust anything the Bushies do but they always want it to look like they are on the side of good. Clean air = more pollution has been the name of their game. This will be no different. He simply cannot be trusted.

And Bush thinks this is a healthcare plan?

I am individually covered by an employer paid plan, but we cannot afford to add the entire family on the company plan. $900 month is just not in our budget. If I were to add my own premium into that - monthly expense would be $1300 a month for a very basic plan.

So, we play a sort of health Russian roulette and touch a lucky horsehoe every morning as we leave for daily routines while whispering "keyn-aynore".

Almost as good as aspirin...

And meanwhile, us older and getting older folks who earn $20,000 a year will still have no insurance and not likely to ever see it. This is and has been a tenure of a wealthy president helping his cronies, nothing more.

"What fantasyland does Mr. Bush live in"

Bush lives in the State of De-Nial

Why reinvent the wheel with an "alternative plan"? Medicare has been in place long enough that most of the kinks have been worked out & the administrative piece is, for the most part, easily managed. With the foundation for a universal plan in place,why not go from there to insuring all? Is that so difficult to understand? I think not, but then when have the bureaucrats wanted to simplfy things? It's a sad day for all. Thanks to W. Dee

Well said! Thank you ...

Well, I have no insurance & Ronni, you just clarified out of Bush's babble what I already suspected: that I'm not allowed to have insurance. Do you know how scary this is? I'm not old enough for medicare and Social Security says I have no disability despite the cold, hard fact that I do and have had it since 1979! I guess I'm supposed to die. Ohio has a orogram for the uninsured but it only covers the minimum -- examinations, etc. God help me if I need surgery or a specialist. I am truly frightened and believed that people are dying because of a "let them eat cake" mentality of our government.

The NYT columnist, Paul Krugman, did a good job explaining why, in his recent article Gold-Plated Indifference (Time Select subscription), President Bush’s medical insurance proposal will not help the people who need help. His conclusion was:

“The only people the Bush plan might move out of the ranks of the uninsured are the people we’re least concerned about — affluent, healthy Americans who choose voluntarily not to be insured. At most, the Bush plan might induce some of those people to buy insurance, while in the process — whaddya know — giving many other high-income individuals yet another tax break.”

I thought the article was very interesting and clearly presents various inadequacies with the new plan.

I would be interested to know what concrete health plan proposals the Democrats are considering. Surely, health insurance access will be a big issue in the up-and-coming election debates. What do you think would be a viable alternative to the present plan from the Republicans?

Once more you are singing my song, Ronni. I have been on my soapbox on this issue for years. Every plan to solve the health care crisis has involved the insurance and the pharmaceutical industries in the plan. They are the Elephants in the room and low cost coverage will never happen until their influence is taken out of the equation. As long as politicians depend on their monetary contributions for re-election there will never be a single payer system; thus there will never be National Health coverage. Any plan that our preppy President comes up with is always going to benefit the rich and powerful. So much for compassion.

Found this article online, and liked it very much, except for one part...that solutions "should be coming from the federal government, not individual states." I think you walk a dangerous line with that logic: creating universal access to a sytem that is to burdensome to be effective. State and local governments have the ability to help form regionally sensitive, and therefore more cost-effective approaches to care. The funding and incentives could still come from the federal government, but eliminate beauracracy by allowing local control to absorb the complexity that a national system would have to struggle with...much like the FQHC model.

sigh ... I guess my mother and I are supposed to die, then.

You said "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."

They stay in a wheel chair instead of being able to walk; or can only walk a shorter distance with a walker instead of a cane or walking independently.

If they run out of occupational therapy, someone else provides personal care for them, since they haven't yet been able to acquire sufficient skills to do for themselves with less help.

If they have to cease speech-language therapy, which includes cognitive and swallowing therapy as well:
- their communication skills for expressing their needs, wants and feelings may be more impaired than need be, or they can't be progressed to more pleasurable levels of understanding and expression;
- safety, judgement, memory problems may significantly impact the rest of their days to a greater degree than is necessary, thus decreasing their own quality of life and making others lives more difficult;
- they may be more limited in the consistency and variety of foods and liquids they can safely eat, or they may have to keep receiving their nourishment and hydration from a feeding tube.

Luke, I appreciate your views, but I find a flaw in your premise. We are now a very mobile society. What happens to your coverage when you move to a different state? People are so fearful of a one-payer system due to misinformation and the term "socialized medicine". To the first I wish everyone could read a letter from a Canadian who wanted to retire to a warmer climate, but was torn because he and his wife would have to give up their wonderful Universal Canadian Health plan. To the second I would say, "We already have socialized medicine and it's called Medicare and Medicaid". It is working quite well and would continue to do so if the Nation's priorities were changed so it would get proper funding.
As far as being burdensome, the mess we have now is the most burdensome and inefficient of all. A one-payer system would eliminate the insurance companies and the exorbitant costs that result. Nothing is perfect, but most anything would be better than the medical crisis we are in.

I'm sure that the expression "gold-plated health insurance" came from the same wizards who laughed and mocked at Hillary Clinton's health plan back in the 90s. I wish them a very happy, comfortable trip to hell.
Taxing insurance benefits!? Only a Scrooge of the first water could think of such a thing. A ticket on the same trip to him or her!!

Uh, has anyone here ever been to Canada? Their socialized medicine is terrible...I have a friend who is DYING in Ottawa and has a hard time getting in to see her docs...have a tumor? Wait 6 months to get it seen...come on...there has to be an alternative...by the way, how is taxing our insurance benefits any different than socialized medicine..talk about a tax... jeez...how about eating healthier, taking the time to exercise, stop smoking and drinking so much...reduce your stress levels...there is a lot you can do as an individual to reduce the chances of even having to go see a doctor...alternative medicine, WORKS...and it is pretty cheap. Do you expect to have the government pay for your car maintenance, home maintenance, ect.? The government is responsible for domestic tranquility, infrastructure, ect. We got off track a long time ago expecting our government to start interfering with our personal health. Regardless of who is in office...I don't like Bush either. But let us start thinking outside of the socialized medicine box; it DOES NOT WORK!

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