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National health care is coming

Jack Balshaw 8/14/02


In 1993 when President Clinton proposed a national health care system, it was soundly defeated. Those opposing it were able to confuse the public enough that it was made out to be another unnecessary government program.

At that time most of the middle class and above had either private or employer paid health insurance. Seniors received assistance through Medicare and they could afford the so-called medigap policies to supplement Medicare. Consequently, there was no outcry following the defeat of the president's proposal. Only those who couldn't afford out of pocket medical care were without health insurance and they were too poor to have any influence.

But now, with reports of health insurance cost increases of 25% to 40% projected for this year and next, many non-seniors will either find it too expensive or will find their employers unwilling to pick up the increase. Pretty soon even a substantial portion of the middle class will feel the pinch of paying for health coverage.

At the same time, the number of doctors willing to accept new Medicare patients is decreasing. This is already causing concern among seniors.

Locally, Health Plan of the Redwood's situation is causing problems. It's not certain what impact HPR's bankruptcy will have on its existing members. If people have to find a new health insurer, pre-existing conditions that made no difference in their existing plan may result in their having to pay a substantial added premium to get a new insurer to accept them. This could be costly.

A new player in this will be the employer now providing health insurance for their employees. Some are already eliminating coverage for employee's family. Others are beginning to see a never-ending spiral for employee health insurance cost. The net result is that these employers are beginning to see a national insurance plan as a way out of this direct expense. Similar to how they have substituted the 401K retirement plans for the previous guaranteed company pension.

Locally, even doctors are talking about a single payer plan if regional HMO's seem a failed business system.

Coverage for mental health care is being added to Medicare and the cost of oral cancer drugs will be covered even though prescription drugs aren't normally eligible. Some kind of legislation will most assuredly be passed to cover a large portion of the cost of prescriptions under Medicare.

These additions to Medicare will establish almost fully subsidized government health care for the seniors as a reality. The availability of this for seniors will cause younger workers who are unable to afford health insurance to demand some type of assistance.

The result of all this will be political pressure for the government to assure that affordable health care is available to a much larger portion of the public. This will be the beginning of eventual universal coverage.

It's strange that when the time comes for an idea or program to be implemented, it becomes inevitable. The implementation can be slowed down and it can be watered down, but it becomes only a matter of time and circumstance before it is an actuality.

All the other developed western countries have some form of national medical care. Isn't it strange that we only hear about their problems and never the success and acceptance by the general population? I've heard criticism about both Canada's and England's health care system. What about the German or French or Swedish systems? If the concept is so bad, why does it persist in these countries?

When the idea was defeated in 1993, those opposing it said it was too complicated to handle on short notice and they needed more time. Most of us thought that meant 2 to 4 years to study and debate it before coming up with some compromise package. Nope, they meant to put it off forever. But forever has come.


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