Senator Breaux Touts Universal Health Plan
WASHINGTON (Jan. 23) - Offering a possible solution to a problem that has frustrated Congress for decades - the millions of Americans with no health insurance - Sen. John Breaux is proposing a plan to insure everyone.
``Fifteen percent of Americans - one in seven - is uninsured,'' Breaux, D-La., said in remarks prepared for Thursday. ``That is simply too many. Providing insurance to all our citizens is simply our duty as a nation.''
Breaux, a moderate who works well with Republicans and Democrats, is unveiling his proposal in speeches Thursday before the National Health Policy Conference and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Scores of lawmakers have said they would like to tackle the issue of the uninsured during this legislative session. The Census Bureau reported in September that increasing unemployment rates had pushed the ranks of the uninsured to 41.2 million people in 2001, 1.4 million more people than the previous year.
``The time has come to rethink our nation's health care system and set as our goal universal coverage for all Americans,'' Breaux said. ``Today is the day we change the conversation from 'we can't' to 'we must.'''
Breaux emphasized that his plan was different from the failed plan offered by former President Clinton in 1993. That plan was widely criticized as a huge expansion of government.
Instead, Breaux is offering a plan that essentially combines government oversight with private sector resources.
Under Breaux's proposal, all U.S. citizens would have access to a group insurance rate. It would be similar to the federal employees' health program, in which employees are pooled together and the government negotiates the lowest premiums and offers a menu of health plan options. Under Breaux's plan, states would offer the group rates to residents.
States could even join with neighboring states to create larger pools under the proposal. Insurers participating in the pools would be barred from denying a person coverage based on a pre-existing condition.
Tax credits would be offered to low- and middle-income Americans to help pay for premiums. Premiums for the poorest would be fully subsidized.
The government would also establish individual health accounts for the poor. Families could use the money for doctor co-payments, premiums or other health expenses.
Employers who stop offering coverage to their workers because of the new program may be required to increase wages by the amount of the premium paid, under the senator's plan.
Breaux's plan suggests that Americans be held accountable for not having health coverage, in the same way drivers are required to have auto insurance. The plan suggests that states link proof of insurance to things like school entry or enrollment in state programs, for example.
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