Private Groups Left to Face Health Insurance System Failures

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that the number of Americans who lack health insurance is growing every year, and that the problem is being addressed mainly by coalitions and groups in the private sector.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Congress is off on a Memorial Day break. It will return next week. And when it does, health care is not likely to be at the top of the legislative agenda, but that doesn't mean there isn't interest in the issue. NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says there's plenty of work being done off Capitol Hill.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Since the Clinton comprehensive health insurance program went up in flames, fueled by industry's clever Harry and Louise ads, no serious effort has been made in government to deal with the rising costs of health care. The number of uninsured people continues to rise, 45 million in 2003, according to the Census Bureau. And premiums for the insured continue to rise in part to help pay for the uninsured. General Motors says that health coverage for its workers adds $1,525 to the price of a car.

Lately there have been some stirrings in the ashes of health-care reform, mainly in what we call the private sector where two groups are looking for non-partisan, non-ideological solutions. The National Coalition on Health Care, a coalition of 90 organizations ranging from AARP to AT&T, issued a report last week laying down principles to guide insurance coverage for all Americans. Its ideas range from expanding existing health-care vehicles to devising an entirely new program. Another group working independently includes 24 industrial and health-care representatives ranging from the liberal Families USA to the conservative Heritage Foundation. Its emphasis is on steady incremental change. It plans to issue its first report next week. A representative of the National Association of Manufacturers, Neil Trautwein, told The New York Times the group is not biased in favor of big government solutions.

How the gap between private plans and government financing will be bridged, that remains to be seen. At the moment, the Bush administration seems intent on cutting back on financing our state Medicaid programs. And the National Academy of Sciences estimates that 18,000 Americans annually die as a result of lack of insurance and lack of proper care. This is Daniel Schorr.

BLOCK: A farmer's market challenge. We shop and cook with minimalist chef Mark Bittman. That's up next on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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