Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wyden's Health Plan: Blowing Our Big Chance

In general, The Eye has looked kindly on Ron Wyden during his years in the Senate. So it's with regret that we feel obligated to

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2009 at 12:20 PM

In general, The Eye has looked kindly on Ron Wyden during his years in the Senate. So it's with regret that we feel obligated to rip into him for his health care reform idea.

Wyden's "Healthy Americans Act" - which has been getting a lot of attention as a supposedly reasonable compromise between conservatives (who basically want to do nothing) and progressives (who want a single-payer plan, also known as "Medicare for all") - claims to fix the health care mess without any net increase in federal spending.

The act would, to quote Wyden:

  • guarantee private health care coverage for all Americans;
  • provide health benefits equal to those that members of Congress now enjoy;
  • provide incentives for individuals and insurers to focus on prevention, wellness and disease management;
  • establish tough cost containment measures that save $1.48 trillion over 10 years; and
  • be fully paid for with the $2.2 trillion currently spent on health care in America today.

Sounds great, right? The one hitch is that Wyden wants to steer employers away from providing health care benefits to their employees. Instead he wants them to "convert their workers' health care premiums into higher wages." And then, theoretically, "employees ... would be required to purchase private health coverage with their higher wages."

There are a couple of rather sizable problems here.

One: How is the government going to MAKE SURE that employers give the money they save by taking away health benefits back to employees in the form of higher wages? Is it going to pore over the books of every business in the country? It sounds like an enforcement nightmare at best and an invitation to monumental fraud at worst.

Second problem: The basic premise of insurance is spreading the risk. The premiums paid by young, healthy people who don't need much health care cover the costs of care for older and/or less healthy people; when the young, healthy people in their turn get older and/or sicker, other premium-payers cover their costs. The bigger the risk pool, the cheaper the insurance can be.

So what kind of private insurance coverage are working people going to be able to afford when they have to go out and buy it on their own with those (supposedly) higher wages?

Besides, as far as we can figure it out, Wyden's plan would do nothing to contain the out-of-control costs of health care or improve the quality of care, other than encouraging preventive actions "like nutrition counseling, tobacco cessation and exercise" - all good things, but not panaceas. People who eat right, don't smoke and work out faithfully still get sick, although you might not believe it from those spunky little "live healthy" stories you read in places like Parade magazine.

This country is looking at the best opportunity for meaningful health care reform it's likely to have in decades - if not in history. We can't throw it away by settling for some tokenistic, half-assed "reform" like Wyden's.

PS: There's going to be a rally in support of single-payer health care at Bend's Pioneer Park at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 8. Singer and labor activist Anne Feeney will perform at the free event, along with David Rovics, Jason Luckett, Pat Dodd and Citizen's Band. For more information call 541-318-8169 or click on

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