Thursday, May 8, 2008

McCainCare: Bad Medicine for Consumers and an Ailing Economy

Last week was "Cover the Uninsured Week." Ironically enough, presidential wannabe John McCain spent the week pushing his new health care plan -- a plan that would actually make it harder to get health insurance. Go, Maverick!

Enjoy this guest blog on the topic, written by my learned friend Hygeia, the Goddess of Health.

McCain’s health care plan is a disaster waiting to happen. It would not only hurt America’s working families, but also would lead to huge cuts in critical employer-based health benefits -- benefits workers have earned and count on to make ends meet. McCainCare is a lethal combination of bad policies and poor judgment, highlighting a stunning lack of comprehension about how to solve our nation’s health care crisis. This is truly alarming coming from a man who wants the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Right out of the box, McCainCare fails the litmus test for any serious health care reform proposal: a central focus on strategies that improve the health of the American people -- not just shortsighted strategies aimed at only cutting costs. Let’s look at why this matters.

Chronic diseases -- such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and arthritis -- affect the quality of life for 133 million Americans. These chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of every ten deaths in the U.S., killing more than 1.7 million Americans every year. Chronic diseases are also the primary driver of our nation’s health care costs, accounting for more than 75 cents of every health care dollar (as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005); this amounted to a staggering $1.5 trillion of the $2 trillion spent on health care. The good news is that these diseases are also among the most preventable.

It is important to realize that improving health requires a broad perspective that also includes the environments in which people work, live and play. A person’s health is a result of both individual actions and the context or environment within which those actions are taken. Adopting healthy behaviors such as eating nutritious foods, being physically active, achieving optimal weight, and avoiding tobacco use can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. We also can avoid or reduce the costs associated with these preventable conditions by offering coverage for—and promoting the use of—clinical preventive services including immunizations, screening for chronic diseases, and providing behavioral counseling. These services can help the public prevent and detect diseases when they are the most treatable and least expensive.

However, McCain’s plan overemphasizes actions that individuals can take -- also known as “personal responsibility.” While Americans should be personally responsible for the choices they make, policy makers also must support prevention programs that foster healthy behaviors. For instance, people can’t eat nutritious foods if they don’t have access to grocery stores that offer fresh fruits and vegetables; and people won’t exercise if the communities in which they live aren’t safe or don’t have connecting streets and sidewalks.

What’s also at issue in McCain’s plan is who’s paying for health care in this country. Under his plan --We the People – are going to be paying even more for our health care. According to a recent report from the Commonwealth Foundation, U.S. consumers already spend $45 billion a year on health care and insurance. We are increasingly footing the bill for health care because employers are failing to provide full-time workers with health insurance.

McCainCare would all but ensure the further erosion of employer-sponsored health coverage by offering consumers ridiculously small tax credits ($2500 for individuals and $5000 for families) to off-set the cost of buying health insurance. These tax credits don’t come close to matching the $11,000 year (average cost) most employers spend on an employee’s health insurance policy. Employers have been trying to find a way out of paying for employee health care expenses, and McCain just gave them a great exit strategy. Most experts agree that employers will use the tax credits provided to working families as an excuse to drop worker health insurance coverage altogether – and it’s workers who will pay.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to understand what this mockery of a health care plan will do to our country. As employer-sponsored health insurance becomes a distant memory, corporate America will get rich and the cost burden will increase on taxpayers, public health insurance programs, and workers themselves. As far as I’m concerned, McCain’s already failed a critical test of any presidential candidate – caring more for the nation’s people than for business’s bottom line.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

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