Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wyden and Bennet: Together Again For The Very First Time!

United States Senators Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett are a pairing most people would not expect. Not at all. Wyden, founder of the Grey Panthers, hails from the so called "Blue State" of Oregon while Bennett calls the "Red State" of Utah home. As Ezra Klein points out in his column for The American Prospect:

Indeed, they appear to have only two things in common. They're both tall. And they want to solve America's health-care crisis. [...] "Isn't this great?" [Wyden] enthused. "A Jesuit university hosting a Mormon fellow and a Jewish fellow to fix health care!"
The bipartisan group coming together around these two looks formidable. The legislation they have co-sponsored now has twelve Senators on board, six from each side of the aisle. A search that Wyden instigated through the Congressional Research Service has declared it the largest bipartisan coalition ever assembled around a concrete piece of universal health care legislation. The reason would probably be the incredibly and fundamentally transformative bill they have co-sponsored.
Rather than patching up the employer-based system and offering alternatives that individuals would maybe migrate toward, as both Clinton's and Obama's plans do, Wyden-Bennett end the employer-based system. They force employers to account for every dime and dollar they spend on employee health care and, the year after the bill's passage, redirect that cash into employee paychecks. So if your employer is spending $7,000 a year for your health insurance, your paycheck gets a $7,000 boost as soon as their bill passes. You have the money they spent on your health care, but you are no longer dependent on them for that health care.

Under the Wyden-Bennett system, health dollars would be controlled by the individual (a long-time conservative goal) and used within a restructured, heavily regulated, totally universal, insurance marketplace (a longtime liberal goal). Each state would create Health Help Agencies, who would provide easy access to insurance products, along with information, guidance, and advice on how to choose. Insurers would have to meet a minimum standard for comprehensiveness (equivalent to the standard Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan currently offered to members of Congress), and they could not discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, occupation, genetic information, gender or age. Nor could they deny insurance to those who ask for it. In return, every American would have to buy health insurance, and there would be hefty subsidies for those further down the income ladder.
According to Klein, the Lewin Group estimates that savings from the plan would amount to $1.4 trillion over the first decade. His analysis continues to look at a variety of aspects of this unheard of coalition. One aspect of the situation that he looks at in particular is the question of how intact this legislation will be at the end of the process.

Citing comments made by Amerihealth executive Dan Hilfery, Klein notes that the most common reaction will probably be: " Your plan sounds great, except for the part that impacts my profit stream." Only time will tell whether or not this dynamic duo can make their plan a reality, but if they do, the next President will have a concrete plan to get on board with -- a plan where most of the legislative jockeying is already over and done with.

No matter what, these two bear watching!

SOURCE: "Health Care's Odd Couple" 02/15/08
photo courtesy of batintherain, used under this Creative Commons license

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