NJBIZ

Health Care Coverage For All, But At What Cost?

NJBIZ — Monday, July 14, 2008

By Thomas Gaudio

An advocacy group last week launched a nationwide campaign in 53 cities, including Trenton, that is pushing for everyone in the country to have health care coverage through federal legislation.

Health Care for America Now – a partnership between citizen interest groups, labor unions and other organizations – said it plans to spend $25 million to advertise its cause in 45 states until the presidential election in November. "In 2009, we will either have a guarantee of quality, affordable health care we can all count on, or we will continue to be at the mercy of the private insurance industry that is charging us more, giving us less and putting company profits before our health," said Ev Liebman, director of organizing and advocacy at New Jersey Citizen Action.

At a 20-person rally at the statehouse, Liebman said, "We're looking for a plan that would provide a choice for individuals, large employers and small employers between private insurance and a public insurance program.

"In New Jersey we have a large number of people who get their insurance through their employers," she said. "We don't want to undermine that system because we don't want to have more people without insurance. To make sure we have shared responsibility, if an employer does not provide quality, comprehensive coverage that's affordable for their employees, [employers] would participate in a pool that would help fund the public option."

Health Care for America Now said employers' contributions to health care coverage costs should be proportional to employee wages. The group said a large number of healthy and sick people would spread the risk and cost of covering individuals through a publicly funded pool.

But Christine Stearns, vice president of health and legal affairs at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, a trade group based in Trenton, said, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Many small businesses don't provide health care insurance now, so any mandate to make companies pay for it would be a burden for them, she says. And even with such payments, Stearns thinks there would be a "funding shortfall. Does that mean some larger employers will get taxed? From what I've seen of their [Health Care for America Now] plan, there are no specifics on how they will reduce costs."

Ben Geyerhahn, New York office director of Small Business Majority, a trade association based in Sausalito, Calif., that supports Health Care for America Now, said a health care coverage-related tax would be a fixed cost from year-to-year instead of the unpredictable and constantly rising cost that [health care coverage] is now.

And for small businesses that don't offer health care coverage, a new tax wouldn't put them at a competitive disadvantage because their competitors, who probably aren't offering health insurance either, would be affected by it as well, Geyerhahn says.

Health Care for America Now's effort is being funded by organizations including MoveOn.org, the National Education Association and The Atlantic Philanthropies Inc.

In the Garden State, groups backing Health Care for America Now include Health Professional and Allied Employees, an Emerson-based union of registered nurses and health care professionals, and New Jersey Citizen Action, a self-described liberal activist group based in Newark.

Also on the health care front last week, Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a bill (S-1557) making more parents eligible for the New Jersey-run program that gives free and subsidized health insurance to low-income families. The law expands the eligibility for NJ FamilyCare to parents in households that earn up to double the poverty level, which is about $42,000 for a family of four.

Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the bill's chief sponsor, said he plans to introduce a second piece of legislation this fall that would provide subsidized health insurance to all low-income adults and require them to buy it.

"We support Senator Vitale's bill," said Liebman. "But we also know that to put in place a system that is sustainable forever, essentially we need to have significant change at the federal level."

Mike Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a public policy group that promotes libertarianism, said, "Unfortunately, the track record of the organizations in this coalition [Health Care for America Now] is one of big-government solutions that don't work and put a terrible strain on the economy.

"The example of national health care systems around the world shows that government-run health care leads to rationing, waiting lists and fewer patient choices," he said. "Similarly, government-run health care in the United States hardly has a confidence-inspiring track record: ...Medicaid delivers poor quality at high cost and Medicare is $70 trillion in debt."

"Certainly American health care has problems – costs are rising, too many people lack health insurance, quality is uneven – but the answer lies in free-market incentives and competition, not with bigger and more intrusive government," Tanner says.

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