October 09, 2007

HOW WE CAN ENSURE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE FOR ALL AMERICANS

We are the richest nation in the world, yet today more than 47 million Americans - 9 million of them children -- have no health care coverage.   The number of uninsured Americans affects all of us through higher medical costs: higher premiums for insurance, higher hospital costs and higher doctors' bills.

 

During the course of our lives, we will spend tens of thousands of dollars on health care.   This year alone, each American will spend on average $925 in out-of-pocket costs for health care services.   As family members, we will face daunting choices about the care of our children, spouses and elderly relatives.

 

Now is the time to tackle the problem of the uninsured.   I have introduced legislation that would require all Americans to have "qualified health coverage" such as employer-provided health insurance, private health coverage, coverage under public programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or any other qualified health coverage as defined by their state of residence. This is similar to the requirement by states that all drivers have automobile insurance.

 

My bill, the Universal Health Coverage Act , S. 1899, directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to develop three low-cost options for individuals with incomes below 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL).   The FPL is currently defined as approximately $20,000 a year for a family of four.   That standard was selected because the vast majority of working families with incomes above that level have access to employer-based health insurance or the ability to purchase coverage.

 

Those who fail to enroll for any coverage for a continuous period greater than 60 days would be required to pay an amount equal to the average monthly premium amount for qualified coverage as defined by the state in which they reside. Funds collected by this tax would then be used to automatically enroll them in a state-approved plan.

 

This legislation reflects my belief in the need for personal responsibility: namely, that those who have the financial ability to afford health insurance must be required to have it.   My proposal also maintains the current employer-based system and protects government-sponsored health programs.

 

We have the most sophisticated health care in the world, but our system lacks adequate access.   My proposal builds on our current system, but also creates low-cost insurance options for families who cannot afford to purchase health care.   It also requires those who can afford to purchase health care insurance to do so.   

 

The first step we must take to address our nation's health care ills is to deal with the problem of the 47 million uninsured.   My proposal provides a common sense approach that will help us move toward that goal.