Snow job in Tampa: Trib pushes Bush agenda

January 31, 2006

Today’s Tribune has an nice easy-to-read sales job for Bush’s forthcoming plan to fix our health care crisis by offering Americans even less health insurance than we currently have.

Tonight, if leaks are correct, President Bush will use his annual State of the Union speech to seek support for changing the health care system into one that gives Americans what they need at a price they can afford.

He’s likely to call for more choices in insurance, more information about the quality of medical services and more reason to care about price. The tools: health savings accounts, known as HSAs, and a medical Internet.

He’s likely to say he favors expanded tax deductions and credits to help the uninsured buy health coverage and pay for services.

He’s likely to say he wants to take the burden of benefits off employers so they can compete in a global marketplace.

And he’s likely to say he wants fewer state regulations on health insurance so that new kinds of coverage can pop up.

Bush calls his vision “consumer-driven health care.” He wants to take the medical industrial complex, turn it around and march it in the direction of the marketplace.

The number of employers offering health coverage to their workers has steadily fallen from 69 percent five years ago to 60 percent last year. As Bush put it in a recent speech, health care has become “an unmanageable cost” for businesses.

Beset by rising premiums and co-payments, Americans don’t have to be Bush supporters to hope he succeeds in reining in health costs. “Anything would be better than what we have now,” said Cora Brown, an Apopka resident who attended a labor forum in Tampa on Monday.

Health-care inflation has been rising at three times the pace of wages and 2 1/2 times the rate of the overall economy since Bush took office. Neither employers nor the workforce can keep up.

Premiums rose 9.2 percent last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The average cost of coverage for a family of four has reached $10,880 per year, an increase of 73 percent since 2000, the foundation reports. Health-care spending stands at $1.9 trillion, or more than 16 percent of the U.S. economy.

And it’s not as though Americans are getting their money’s worth, health analysts say.

Per-person spending on health care is $5,267, more than double the median spending among industrialized countries of $2,193. Yet the U.S. health system rates below its peers on most public-health measures such as immunization rates, birth outcomes and life expectancy.

Uh, those other industrialized countries have systems known as socialized medicine. Their systems cover every citizen and do it cheaper and better than our system.

But Bush is not talking about implementing a system with a proven track record that will provide coverage to everyone – the sick, the old, the chronically ill. He’s proposing HSAs – savings accounts, which are great deals for people who are young, healthy, and gainfully employed. For the rest of us, HSAs are simply a means by which we can personally relieve employers of even more of the health cost burden while taking on greater personal financial risks.

HSAs are less insurance – the idea is to save money for a rainy day and cover medical expenses out of pocket for all but the most costly incidents. See, insurance will be cheaper if you buy it with a $3,500 deductible.

The problem arises when one reaches a point in one’s life in which personal medical expenses will, predictably, start rising exponentially. Or when one experiences an income loss. Or when cancer or some other wasting disease strikes and one finds oneself suddenly uninsurable.

Despite the double handjob treatment from The Tribune’s Fechter and Gentry, HSAs are anything but a system ”that gives Americans what they need at a price they can afford.”

Tonight, look for vague promises of more people being ”insured”, of tax cuts, of rebates, and of a healthfulier America.

And remember: if you’re young, fit, and rich, HSAs are the best idea since Social Security reform!

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