Congress has started in earnest its effort to enact President Obama’s promise for universal health care. Many in the mainstream media repeat the meme that this effort will finally ensure quality health care for all Americans, but the truth is that enactment will bring profound changes for the average insured person -- changes that will more likely lower the quality of coverage particularly for those individuals reliant on advanced medicines.
Besides creating a federally run insurance network to compete with existing private sector insurance, the main bill introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) requires the federal government to subsidize insurance premiums for families of four with incomes up to $100,000. It creates a national mandate for every American to obtain health insurance with penalties on as many as 5 million Americans who don’t have coverage (although the bill does include an “exceptional financial hardship” exemption for a few). Not leaving employers out of the picture, the bill places a similar mandate on all medium and large businesses forcing them to provide coverage and it expands Medicaid to cover people with incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level ($16,245 for an individual and $33,075 for a family of four). The end result is that the already ballooning deficit will expand beyond any comprehensible level and private insurance will be crowded to the periphery.
Perhaps the most consequential change will be the additional cost controls the Kennedy bill places on the existing insurance sector including eliminating nearly all options for insurers to either deny or price different applicants according to their health needs. Taken together with the expansions in the government sector, these changes will lead to radically different treatment tomorrow for patients who already have coverage. For these individuals the changes could be deadly.
One particular area of concern is the potential changes in access to life saving statins - a class of drugs that lowers cholesterol levels for those at risk of heart disease - that will come as a result of this bill. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and any changes to our health care system should improve this situation, not exacerbate it.
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