Monday, January 22, 2007

Don't have a gold-plated health plan? Why not try one of the credit card plans instead?

One of the most promising ways to make private health insurance more affordable is by reforming the Federal tax code. Today, the tax code unfairly penalizes people who do not get health insurance through their job. It unwisely encourages workers to choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans. The result is that insurance premiums rise, and many Americans cannot afford the coverage they need.

We need to fix these problems, and one way to do so is to treat health insurance more like home ownership. The current tax code encourages home ownership by allowing you to deduct the interest on your mortgage from your taxes. We can reform the tax code, so that it provides a similar incentive for you to buy health insurance. So in my State of the Union Address next Tuesday, I will propose a tax reform designed to help make basic private health insurance more affordable -- whether you get it through your job or on your own. -- George Bush Radio Address, Jan. 20
So, there's one thing the Decider will be talking about tomorrow night in the SOTU -- his favorite conservative fantasies about solving the healthcare crisis through individual responsibility shaped by tax incentives. And curbing costs by incenting health-care consumers to cut back on those "expensive, gold plated plans." Paul Krugman, among others, isn't buying it.
While proposing this high-end tax break, Mr. Bush is also proposing a tax increase — not on the wealthy, but on workers who, he thinks, have too much health insurance. The tax code, he said, “unwisely encourages workers to choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans. The result is that insurance premiums rise, and many Americans cannot afford the coverage they need.”

Again, wow. No economic analysis I’m aware of says that when Peter chooses a good health plan, he raises Paul’s premiums. And look at the condescension. Will all those who think they have “gold plated” health coverage please raise their hands?
On the same day that Krugman was slamming Bush on healthcare, fellow NYT columnist Bob Herbert was attacking another aspect of the healthcare debacle under the headline "Your MasterCard or Your Life" -- the growing resort, not to gold-plated plans, but to "credit card plans" by people who are either under-insured or have no insurance at all, trying to get treatment from medical institutions that demand payment up front.
Americans are increasingly living in a house of cards — credit cards.

A disturbing new report shows that with health care costs continuing their sharp rise, low- and middle-income patients are reaching for their credit cards with alarming frequency to cover treatment that they otherwise would be unable to afford.

This medical debt, to be paid off in many cases at sky-high interest rates, is being loaded onto consumer debt that is already at dangerously high levels. Many families have been crushed by the load, driven from their homes, forced into bankruptcy, and worse.
Take your pick: In George Bush's world, Americans have too much health insurance. In Bob Herbert's world, they don't have enough. Which sounds like the world you live in?

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