----- Original Message -----
From: Oregon AFL-CIO
Subject: Weekly Update - What's a President to do about Health Care?
Stories are breaking almost every day now about a crisis in health care that reaches far beyond the working poor to millions of middle-income working families and retirees, sparking new interest in the question left unanswered since the early Clinton years: What's a President to do about health care?
Here is some of the most recent data, followed by proposals by the two presidential candidates:
Families USA reported last week that 81.8 million Americans lacked health coverage for all or part of 2002 and 2003. That's a third of all persons under the age of 65. The same report found that 25% of middle-income families went without coverage during that period. In Oregon, 968,000 people went without coverage during those two years, including more than 630,000 who went without coverage for at least six months.
Another study released last week by the Economic Policy Institute found a shocking decline in employer-sponsored health insurance for retirees. The proportion of employers with 200 or more workers offering retiree health benefits declined from 66% in 1988 to 38% in 2003.
A report issued earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine Rising debunked the myth that the uninsured can get care when they need it. The report found: "Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States."
The Oregon Health Plan is shrinking in more ways than one. Not only have 50,000 low-income Oregonians lost coverage under the plan during the past year, but those on the Plan are finding it increasingly difficult to find a doctor who will treat them. The Oregonian reported yesterday half of all doctors in Oregon "either don't accept Medicaid patients or limit the number they see," primarily because of low reimbursement rates.
As the crisis intensifies, so does the demand for solutions, prompting the Presidential candidates to respond in good ways and bad.
Kerry's Proposals Will Reduce Costs, Expand Coverage: Sen. John Kerry's proposal to provide federal reimbursements for catastrophic expenses borne by employers who provide good health benefits earned high marks in a report issued today. An analysis by Dr. Kenneth E. Thorpe, a respected health care actuary at Emory University, concluded that the "stop-loss pool┐ and other reforms proposed by Kerry would lower private health insurance costs by $26.6 billion over ten years and extend coverage to 26.7 million Americans who are currently uninsured.
Bush's Reforms Shift More Costs to Individuals: President Bush is banking on health savings accounts (HSAs) as the centerpiece of his health care reforms. HSAs were enacted in the Medicare prescription drug bill signed by the President in December. But USA Today reported on Monday that HSAs are likely to hit workers with "sharply higher health insurance deductibles" if employers embrace this approach. That's because the HSAs require insurance policies with deductibles of at least $1,000 per person and $2,000 for families.