Advertisement
 

GOP healthcare plan isn't about helping the uninsured

Among other things, the proposal would actually increase the number of people without health insurance over the next decade. But it allows the Republicans to say they offered a cheaper alternative.

November 08, 2009|DAVID LAZARUS

Republican lawmakers issued their own healthcare reform plan the other day, and you'd have to look hard to find a more cynical document purporting to represent the best interests of the American people.

How does the GOP plan fail at addressing our core problems of 47 million people lacking coverage and runaway medical costs? Let us count the ways.

First off, the plan actually increases the number of uninsured over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By 2019, the CBO estimates, we'd have no fewer than 52 million non-elderly people without health coverage.

The Republican plan would allow insurers to cross state lines in offering their policies but would exempt them from many consumer-protection laws outside their home state.

Insurers would still be able to deny coverage to people with preexisting medical problems.

Employers wouldn't have to offer health insurance to workers.

Lower-income people would receive no additional assistance buying coverage for their families.

Needless to say, there's no mention of a public insurance option.

Perhaps the sole merit to the Republican reform plan is its price tag -- $61 billion over 10 years. But considering that it does virtually nothing to address current problems, and in some ways only makes those problems worse, taxpayers might wonder what exactly they're paying for.

"This doesn't do much to accomplish the goals that most people have for healthcare reform," said Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a Washington think tank.

"At the top of that list has to be getting more people covered, and this wouldn't do that."

So why would our Republican friends put forward such a patently bogus reform agenda? Now they can tell voters that they had their own plan on the table, and they can point to that relatively minuscule cost as an example of good old-fashioned GOP conservatism.

Not like those spendthrift Democrats, who wanted to plunk down about $1 trillion over 10 years bringing health coverage to almost everyone and making the insurance market more competitive with the introduction of a public plan.

Speaking of which, more than a few conservative-minded readers took issue with my column last Sunday in which I wrote about the Business Roundtable's opposition to a public insurance plan.

The Roundtable is an organization of chief executives whose companies provide coverage to more than 35 million people. They're also largely responsible for stripping health benefits from hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

According to Forbes magazine, more than 611,000 people have been laid off since the beginning of the year by the 500 largest public companies.

In response to the column, John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, wrote to say that my linking healthcare reform to layoffs was "a red herring."

A public plan, he said, would increase costs for private plans, "making them less viable for the millions who have them now," and would stifle "the innovations needed to realize better care at lower cost."

As if private plans are all that viable at the moment or are contributing to innovation in the medical marketplace.

Take the example of WellPoint Inc., a Business Roundtable member that just so happens to be the largest for-profit health insurer by membership in the country.

The Indianapolis company, parent of Anthem Blue Cross of Woodland Hills, has about 42,000 employees and a market value of nearly $23 billion. As of Sept. 30, the company had pocketed $2 billion in profit for the year.

Surely if any employer can make the case for why a public option is the wrong way to go, it's a highly profitable enterprise like WellPoint, which specializes in providing affordable health coverage to the American people.

Oh, wait, what's this? It's a memo from Randy Brown, WellPoint's chief human resources exec, who told employees last month that the company would be cutting back on its own health benefits.

WellPoint, he wrote, will "lower its contribution toward worker premiums and raise deductibles in two of its three benefit plans."

"Your cost per paycheck will probably increase," Brown warned.

Moreover, WellPoint cut about 1,500 positions earlier this year. Maybe some of those people managed to find work -- and health coverage -- elsewhere. The rest have had to fend for themselves.

Kristin Binns, a WellPoint spokeswoman, blamed rising healthcare costs on "increased use of medical services and underlying inefficiencies in the healthcare delivery system."

"It is ironic that, as a health insurance company, we are not immune from this trend," she said. "But as a large company, it impacts us much as it does any other."

That's one way of looking at it. Another is to point out the obvious: If our biggest private health insurer has to jack up the cost of coverage even for its own workers, there is clearly something seriously wrong with our healthcare system.

The Democrats' solution wouldn't be cheap. But this is a reflection of the huge scope of the problem, not the frivolousness of the proposed fix.

For that reason, both the American Medical Assn. and the AARP gave their blessing to the Dems' reform plan last week.

The Business Roundtable is placing corporate interests before those of the American people, and the Republicans are largely dancing to the same tune.

It's nice that they're interested enough in the reform process to participate. But at this late hour, it's no longer time for blatant political posturing or self-serving opposition to constructive ideas.

It's time do what's right -- or to leave the decision making to more serious-minded people.

--

David Lazarus' column runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|