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Misc. News : Non-food Things Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Universal Health Insurance is back on the drawing board
By Kathy Jones
Jan 22, 2007 - 9:04:02 AM

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Health insurance is a touchy issue these days what with 47 million Americans having no coverage whatsoever. Universal health insurance has so far remained a pipedream encouraged by politicians, but rejected by the industry.

However the situation now seems to have reversed, as the health insurance industry seems to have woken up to the fact that universal coverage will prove to be viable for their businesses as well.

Ever since Gov Mitt Romney successfully implemented a plan that sought universal coverage for all people in Massachusetts, other states are trying to come up with comparable plans to take care of the soaring health expenditure.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many states have tried to provide some sort of coverage to the uninsured population and have come quite close on several occasions.

In 1974 Hawaii passed a law requiring employers to provide coverage for all workers who logged in 20 hours per week. However, this law has met with minimal success at best since more than 10 percent of the state's population remains uninsured.

Minnesota and Vermont tried to provide universal coverage in 1992 but both states met with failure since the language used in the bills concerning the universal coverage was repealed.

Maine tried a law in 2003 that did succeed in broadening the base of the insured, but not in complete coverage. In the same year, California tried to introduce more employer contributions, but that provision was withdrawn the following year after a referendum.

Health care is fast becoming the top concern for Americans and recognizing that the time for change is now, 16 business, medical and consumer groups asked the Congress to allocate $45 billion to provide coverage to the maximum number of uninsured children in America. The groups have asked Congress to spread this budget over the next five years.

Even President George W. Bush is pushing for health insurance reforms. In his State of the Union address on Saturday, Bush revealed that he had plans to give tax breaks in order to make health insurance more attractive to people.

"Our challenge is clear," Bush said. "We must address these rising costs, so that more Americans can afford basic health insurance. And we need to do it without creating a new federal entitlement program or raising taxes."

However Bush is pushing for private-health insurance rather than expanding the government-owned bodies. Democrats on the other hand want to extend the reach of Medicare and Medicaid as a remedy to the lack of health coverage.

According to figures released by the Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, health care spending in the United States is expected to reach $4.0 trillion and 20.0 percent of GDP. This is a huge slice of the GDP and without health insurance, many states can ill-afford such expenditure.

That is why health insurance is back in focus after it was shoved away during President Bill Clinton's tenure. Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, has called on the Congress to first focus on children and then expand coverage to uninsured adults. Tax breaks and expanded federal programs are the proposed means through which universal coverage should be given, she added.

"On this issue, the polls show that Democrats, Republicans and independents want progress," Ignagni said. "The most expensive course is to do nothing."

Earlier this month California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took the first step toward making health insurance mandatory by announcing that the $12 billion required would be partially funded through fees on employers, hospitals and doctors.

President Bush seems to have caught on and hence his advocating tax breaks. "Today, the tax code unfairly penalizes people who do not get health insurance through their job," Bush said. "It unwisely encourages workers to choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans. The result is that insurance premiums rise and many Americans cannot afford the coverage they need."

However problems do persist. One is that labor unions may feel that job-based health insurance could be weakened. Many health experts are predicting that the 2008 Presidential elections are going to be fought and won on health coverage platform.

If that is so, then it is surely good news for 47 million Americans, who have no health insurance to speak of.

© 2004-2008 by unless otherwise specified

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