Enticing New Health Care Plan from Little Known Corner of Congress

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A new Slate article by Jacob Weisberg examines that state of American health care, from the status quo to Bush’s plan to John Edwards’ plan to… Ron Wyden’s plan?

Yup. The Democratic senator from Oregon has a plan, and it sounds mighty attractive. Imagine if the giant, Byzantine mess that is the current health care system in this country was reduced to this:

Under Wyden’s plan, employers would no longer provide health coverage, as they have since World War II. Instead, they’d convert the current cost of coverage into additional salary for employees. Individuals would use this money to buy insurance, which they would be required to have. Private insurance plans would compete on features and price but would have to offer benefits at least equivalent to the Blue Cross “standard” option.

And Wyden is serious about the “universal” aspect of universal health insurance. From a summary of his plan: “Every time an individual interacts with state, local and federal government — registering their car, enrolling their children in school, applying for a driver’s license or paying their taxes — they can be required to verify their enrollment in a private health insurance plan.” Also, I’m sure this is music to some people’s ears: “Previous and existing health problems, occupation, genetic information, gender and age will no longer be allowed to impact eligibility or the price paid for insurance.”

Now you might say, “That’s very well and good, but what about the unemployed, low-wage workers, and freelance bloggers? If they can’t afford private health insurance now, why would they be able to afford it under the Wyden plan?” Wyden’s website is stocked with information on the subject, and in all the “Before Wyden Plan”/”Under Wyden Plan” scenarios you can find there, previously uninsured individuals pay for private insurance at affordable rates. But how? From the same summary:

Employers who do not currently provide health benefits will be required to begin making phased in “Employer Shared Responsibility Payments.” These payments will be used to ensure that everyone can afford their health plans by funding premium reductions.

After two years, all employers will pay these “Employer Shared Responsibility Payments,” driving down the cost of premiums for employees across the country, the semi-employed, and the unemployed.

Now it’s just a matter of getting this thing off the ground. As Weisberg writes in Slate, it might actually have a chance to succeed because Wyden is building support methodically and effectively.

He has support from CEOs, labor leaders, and even one maverick health-insurance executive. And instead of trying to flatten the opposition, as the Clintons did in 1994, Wyden is courting Republicans. He recently got five of the most conservative men in the Senate to join him and four other Democrats as co-signers of a letter to Bush responding to the White House proposal. The letter endorses the principles of universal coverage and cost containment, and proposes that they all work together on a compromise.

Godspeed.

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