Thursday, May 28

Each insured family pays $1,017 in higher health premiums for uninsured care, a report issued today says.

The additional expenditure covers health care for the uninsured, largely at emergency rooms where they are legally entitled to receive basic care regardless of their status, according to a report by Families USA. The health care reform advocacy group calls it a “hidden tax” that hits individual policy owners with about $368 in additional annual costs.

The uninsured received about $116 billion in health care in 2008 and paid for 37 percent of it out of pocket. Charities picked up another 26 percent. That left $42.7 billion to be passed on to the insured to support delinquent costs.

What kind of health care reform does Families USA envision? The organization likes the idea of a government alternative to private health care coverage. You can see their plan spelled out in detail here.

The idea, which President Obama brought up during the campaign, is controversial. If it is introduced, it will be heatedly opposed by many groups, in particular the health insurance industry. Insurers worry that a public alternative will drive down prices and slice into their profits.

This is not government health care. It has nothing to do with free choice, since anyone who has coverage through Aetna, UnitedHealth or any other insurer wouldn’t have to do anything. They could keep their plan as is. But if you’re uninsured and shopping for a plan, the private insurers will have to remain competitive in order to have a shot at your business.

It’s not an ideal solution but it warrants serious discussion. My sincerest hope is that we do not see a return of the Harry and Louise TV commercials that helped jettison the Clinton plan in 1993 before it even had a chance to be rationally debated.

This is why Obama publicly huddled with insurers earlier this month, extracting a promise to slash 1.5 percent from annual health care cost increases over the next decade. According to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, industry officials are already backing away from this promise.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is busy developing a series of ads to whip up public sentiment against the public option plan. I wonder who will play Harry and Louise this time?

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