Health care for all

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to provide health care to all 36 million California residents could not have come at a better time.

Health care for all

 It should serve as a wake-up call to the new Democratic leaders in Congress that, as welcome as the California initiative is, health coverage is a national crisis that requires a national solution.

Governor Schwarzenegger becomes the fourth governor in the nation to tackle the issue of universal health care on a state level. Last year, then-Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts unveiled a plan under which all residents of that state must purchase health care coverage, much as residents in most states are required to buy auto insurance. The other two states that have made universal health care a priority -- Maine and Vermont -- are too small to serve as case studies for any national program. But California and Massachusetts, with their diverse populations and geographic differences, could provide some valuable lessons on what works under a universal health care program, and what does not.

According to some estimates, some 6.5 million residents of California have no health coverage. By contrast, Massachusetts, a smaller state, had 550,000 residents uninsured when the Romney plan was approved by the Massachusetts Legislature last year. Thus, California faces the bigger hurdle, while Massachusetts appears to have an easier transition to make.

Under the Schwarzenegger plan, employers, doctors and hospitals would have to contribute to help pay for coverage of the uninsured, as well as those covered under the state's Medicaid program. The uninsured also would be required to pay for coverage according to their means.

Massachusetts was able to convert a $1 billion pool, which had been used to pay for health care for the uninsured, into a program that subsidizes health care for all. Employers can face financial penalties for not providing coverage for workers, and the uninsured can be penalized if they fail to purchase coverage. But that coverage will be priced according to one's ability to pay. For example, some might have to pay $250 a month, while others might pay nothing.

It will take time to see if either of these programs works out, or if, as some critics fear, they merely drive businesses and jobs out of state. But they are clearly preferable to the Bush administration's health care savings accounts, which have fizzled on Capitol Hill. The accounts were to provide tax breaks for those who set aside money for medical expenses. Yet most people who lack health coverage don't have the income to afford to save for a medical emergency.

But at least it was an idea. Congress, by contrast, hasn't risen to the challenge, although Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., plans hearings on the issue. Regrettably, the growing number of state plans may act as incentive for Congress to continue to sit on the sidelines. But that would be a dereliction of duty. Health care shouldn't depend on what state a person lives in. It should be available to all citizens. And the Democrats who now lead the Congress should say as much.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16