Bipartisan Advocates Push a New Health Care Plan
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
With all the attention on the war in Iraq and now domestic surveillance, healthcare is not getting too much attention. But that issue is again climbing up the policy agenda. Today, for the third straight day, a group of unlikely allies from opposite ends of the political spectrum came together. They urged Congress to pass legislation to cover the 47 million Americans without health insurance.
NPR's Julie Rovner has the story.
JULIE ROVNER: Stuart Altman teaches health policy at Brandeis University. He's seen health reform efforts come and go since the early 1970s, when he worked in the Nixon administration. And he says health reform is clearly on an upswing.
STUART ALTMAN: Oh, there's no question that we're in a cycle very similar to what happened in the later part of the 1980s. You can just see it heating up.
ROVNER: But in those 35 years, reform efforts have tended to founder on what's become known in health policy circles as Altman's law.
ALTMAN: Which is based on what I saw back in the middle 1970s was that every group had their own health insurance plan. But when it came time to compromise, they said if it's not my plan, I'd rather have the status quo.
ROVNER: So nothing ever got done, which is what made the press conference today at Washington's Union Station so remarkable. Sixteen groups representing liberals and conservatives, businesses, consumers and health care providers came together behind a fairly specific proposal they say could reduce the number of uninsured by half. Reed Tuckson is with United Health Foundation.
REED TUCKSON: We have all been around this process so long. Day after day after day, there is debate, discussion and day after day people die. We are sick and tired of the debate. We are focusing on what is achievable and what is possible.
ROVNER: The proposal was the result of two and a half years of meetings, not to mention the work of two conflict management organizations. Ron Pollack of the liberal consumer group Families USA says the unveiling is just the beginning of the effort.
RON POLLACK: We recognize we are strange bedfellows. But let this be clear, we are not interested in a one night stand.
ROVNER: The proposal has two phases. The first would piggyback on something Congress has to do this year anyway - renew the state children's health insurance program. The crux of the Kids First proposal was to create a one stop shopping system for low income children. Kids who get food stamps or low cost school lunches would also get enrolled automatically in health insurance programs. Families with slightly higher incomes, up to about $60,000 a year, would be eligible for new tax credits to help buy private insurance. The plan would cost an additional $45 billion over five years.
Chip Kahn of the Federation of American Hospitals is a Republican who's worked for decades on and off Capitol Hill. He says despite the price tag, now is as a good time as any to get something like this passed.
CHIP KAHN: It's easy to be skeptical about its chances in Congress. But if we go back 10 years, we had a split government. We had a tough fiscal environment, and we ended up having a balanced budget act that included coverage for children. And we're talking about the same kind of thing today, the same kind of environment. It was done then and I believe it can be done now.
ROVNER: The second phase of the proposal would expand coverage for adults. Those with low incomes would get public coverage. Those who earn slightly more would get tax credits. The groups hope Congress will act soon, not just because the problem is urgent - they don't want their carefully crafted compromise to get caught up in next year's presidential politics.
Julie Rovner, NPR News.
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