Raising Women’s Voices

John Stewart and Kathleen Sebelius talk about health care

Posted in Affordability, DC Reform, Health Reform Policy Proposals by raisingwomensvoices on July 16, 2009
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There was an interesting interview last night about health care on the Daily Show with Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The entire episode was pretty funny, so definitely check it out here or above. Since the Daily Show is fine comedy television and not exactly the journalistic factual news media, we don’t expect it to carry the same responsibilities or weight that other serious news shows do. However, there were some things we thought it would be important to address. If John Stewart has these concerns, many other people probably do too.

First, it’s good to go over the basic ideas in the bill that they’re talking about. It is complex and we want to give a little peak into the important points. It is the Tri-Committee bill that came out of the House yesterday – a fairly progressive and large piece of legislation (a full 1,018 pages).

Most of the changes that would happen if this bill were to become law would happen in 2013. Some of those changes would be that all those below 133% of the federal poverty line would be eligible for Medicaid. There would be federal subsidies for all those from 133 – 400% of the federal poverty line. Those subsidies would aid individuals and families to buy into health care coverage through the health care exchange. There would be a requirement for health insurance for all legal residence, and non-compliance would result in monetary penalties that would depend on the income of the individual or family.

John Stewart stated that “I feel badly for the small businesses that have to shoulder the costs”, which is answered by another element of the bill: the pay-or-play policy for employers. This essentially means that employers would be required to either offer insurance to their employees and share in the payment of premiums, or pay the federal government 8% of their payroll. This is where John Stewart’s concern about small businesses comes in – those small businesses that have annual payrolls less than $250,000 would be exempt from this federal tax.

The House Tri-Committee bill provides a public plan that would be available through the insurance exchanges. The plan would be run by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and would pay Medicare rates plus 5% to practitioners (doctors and other health care providers). Also, providers would not be required to participate in the public plan in order to participate in Medicare. Another of John Stewart’s concerns was that companies, when faced with a possibly cheaper public health care option, would switch their plans to the public plan (therefore interfering with the Obama pledge that if you like your coverage you can keep it). Theoretically, by buying into the cheaper public plan, these companies would save money. Though Sebelius did state that competition and choice would help bring the cost down, we think this is a really important element of the public plan. When insurance companies see the public plan (which, according to Sebelius, would have lower overhead administrative costs) being cheaper, they will respond accordingly. This means bringing down everyone’s costs and ensuring better care.

John Stewart said something else important – that “there’s the cost issue and the moral issue”. Health care reform is very much a moral issue. Secretary Sebelius said that “what we have is unsustainable, unconscionable, and unacceptable” and that since this is “most personal service any of us will ever get”, reform needs to happen and everyone needs access to affordable, quality care. Sebelius ended by saying the whole basis of the system needs to be re-thought, that we need to “start to invest in prevention and wellness to make American kids healthier”. Amen to that. Hopefully some of this information clears up the concerns that many health insurance consumers have about the House bill.

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