Gearing Up

While the issues for the health care debate in 2002 will be familiar – tax credits for displaced workers, the patients’ bill of rights, and a drug benefit for Medicare – the terms of the debate clearly are shifting toward consumer-friendly options.

In a “Meet the Press” interview on Sunday, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill highlighted the administration’s commitment to using tax credits to help the unemployed buy insurance.

Instead of targeted COBRA subsidies and Medicaid expansion, “The president said let’s deal with every American fairly. Everyone who is dislocated should get the same access to money to help with their health insurance,” O’Neill stressed.

And an echo from Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado in his State of the State address this month: “We should expand both accessibility and affordability by providing a tax credit for small employers who offer health insurance to their workers.” Tax credits should be targeted to individuals, not employers, but this is a start.

Further, Gov. Owens wants to give citizens a choice of health insurance free of mandates: “The only health insurance policy we allow our citizens to buy today is a ‘Cadillac’ policy, loaded up with all the extras in coverage, whether you need those or not.”

“If you can’t afford that ‘Cadillac’ policy, you are out of luck?Let’s allow for a health plan that provides good, basic coverage at a more affordable cost, and allow Coloradans to then add to this basic coverage with the options they need.”

So in this climate, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said he plans to move forward with a formal conference on the patients’ bill of rights. A spokesman said that the goal is to “just finish the process” and get a “good patients’ bill of rights.”

The only good bill is no bill. Even House Democrats say privately that this is NOT the time to pass a bill that is sure to cause many more Americans to lose their health coverage.

As for the third item on the health care agenda this year, prescription drugs: We continue to work hard on refining our Prescription Drug Security (PDS) Card idea, which is gaining attention as a realistic alternative to simply slapping a drug benefit onto the decrepit Medicare program.

Joe Antos, most recently the top guru on Medicare (and many other things) at the Congressional Budget Office, joined AEI in October and is providing invaluable advice in moving us toward getting cost estimates for the PDS plan. His careful and extraordinarily knowledgeable guidance will make the critical difference in shaping a market-based plan that is both workable and affordable.

And finally, Tara Persico, the Galen Institute’s terrific research specialist, has created a new section for our website that provides links to recent writings of Health Policy Consensus Group participants. The main page lists the current participants in the Consensus Group and provides links to individual pages containing a selection of the author’s published works, including papers, commentaries, and testimonies, etc. To view the page, go to

The writings of these experts are a great source and give you one-stop shopping for the BEST work being done on free-market health reform ideas today.

Grace-Marie Turner

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit research organization focusing on ideas to promote free-market health reform. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA, 22320.

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