Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On The Road With Robert Reich

Today our media offering is from The Wall Street Journal. This morning in their commentary section we find Robert B. Reich, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, sharing his views on "The Road to Universal Coverage."

He begins by noting that on the Democratic side of the current race for the White House all three major candidates (Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards) have made health insurance issues a major part of their individual platforms. He also notes the despite overwhelming similarities in their plans they are focusing on the small differences in the battle for their party's nomination. "Mandates are a sideshow, and fighting over them risks turning away voters from the main event."

After a lucid and concise comparison of the plans presented by Democratic frontrunners, in which he demonstrates just how similar they are, he continues:

This fight is little more than a distraction, given that a mandate would matter only to a tiny portion of Americans. All major Democratic candidates and virtually all experts agree that the combination of purchasing pools, subsidies, easy enrollment and mandatory coverage of children will cover a large majority of those who currently lack insurance -- even without a mandate that adults purchase it. A big chunk of the remainder are undocumented immigrants, who aren't covered by any of the plans.
Should the remaining 3% of the population be required to purchase insurance, or lured into it by rate decreases and subsidies? Reich's position is that the answer depends on who you think comprises that 3%.

Comparing Senators Clinton and Obama he shows us the difference in views on this topic. Senator Clinton's position is that the 3% are youthful and in good health, which means they would lower the overall cost of health care as their payments subsidize others. Senator Obama's position is that many of them simply cannot afford coverage even with subsidized premiums. His belief is that they would either ignore the mandate or simply be unable to afford it. To Mr. Reich's credit his conclusion after comparing them is cautious and well reasoned. Like much of the current discussion on the topic it also casts an eye towards Massachusetts:
Who's correct? It's hard to know. So far, the Massachusetts experiment suggests Mr. Obama. Massachusetts is the only state to require that every resident purchase health insurance. The penalty for failing to do so could reach $4,000 next year, but the state has already exempted almost 20% of its current uninsured from the requirement. Massachusetts is concerned they can't afford a policy, even with subsidies similar to those in all the Democratic plans. So far, about 50% of Massachusetts's uninsured have complied with the mandate.
He closes with a call to action for Democrats, encouraging them to "stop leading with their chins," in counterproductive arguments over mandates and begin building momentum for large scale and desperately needed change. Change that they all already agree upon.

SOURCE: "The Road to Universal Coverage" 01/09/08
photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley, used under this Creative Commons license

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