The Health Care Reform Story: or Boy, Was I An Idiot

The following story was what I submitted to my senior managers (read:  editors) in mid-July 2009.  A later version, heavily redlined and substantially changed, ran on the internal website about a week later.

This was the beginning of the end.  Until I wrote this story, I really believed my health care insurance “nonprofit” employer had supported health care reform.  I learned otherwise after I wrote this story.  I also learned about how what AHIP was doing for the company, and that its lobbyists’ pay was not documented.

Anyway.  Live and learn.

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In its first big move toward national health care reform, the House of Representatives took a step toward providing health insurance for all Americans last week.  The bill passed its first test in Congress as the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a revised version last Thursday.

House leaders had unveiled the bill on Tuesday.  It offers guaranteed expanded coverage for 97% of all Americans, deceleration in the growth of Medicare, tax funding changes to support reform, and penalties for employers who do not provide health benefits to their workers.

Worth the Wait:  Blue Shield’s Legacy of Support for Reform

This first health care reform bill is something of a vindication for Blue Shield.  CEO Bruce Bodaken and senior leaders Paul Markovich and Rob Geyer have repeatedly called for national health care reform.  Paul made his latest appeal in an op-ed piece in The San Francisco Chronicle, just last week.  Each time you have voiced your support for universal coverage, you have reinforced their message.

Blue Shield of California has a history of advocacy for statewide and national health care reform.  The health reform policy framework proposed by the state of Massachusetts, Governor Schwarzenegger, President Obama, and current Congressional leaders was first developed right here at Blue Shield.

In a December 2002 speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Blue Shield Chairman and CEO Bruce Bodaken offered a plan for universal coverage based on universal responsibility.  The first health plan CEO to make a specific proposal for universal coverage, Bodaken advocated guaranteed coverage for all regardless of health status, an employer mandate, an individual mandate with subsidies, expanded public programs, an essential benefits package, and broad-based tax funding.

This structure, which is now commonly called “shared responsibility,” has become the consensus approach to comprehensive health reform.  You’ll notice aspects of Bruce’s plan as you read on.

A Step Closer to “Universal Responsibility”

The new bill would create a new government-run health plan, which would enter the market in competition with private insurers starting in 2013.

Under the proposed bill:

  • Individuals would generally retain the health insurance they already have.
  • In cases of hardship (as defined by the U.S. Treasury), individuals would become eligible for coverage under government-run health insurance.
  • Individuals could then purchase coverage from the new government plan, and federal aid would be available to low-income individuals.
  • A person with access to coverage through his or her employer would be eligible for the government plan if premiums for the employer’s coverage would cost more than 11% of family income.
  • Businesses with a total payroll of less than $250,000 would be exempt from paying the coverage penalty or per-employee fee.

Details of the bill are still being worked out, and the process is expected to last several months.  But when you’ve been working towards one goal for this long – health care reform has been under discussion in Washington, in one form or another, for some 60 years – what’s another few months?

Next Goal On the Agenda:  Winning It All

If you remember your Schoolhouse Rock, we are still some distance away from the finish line on health care reform.  This new bill has a way to go before it can become a law.

However, while the bill still faces substantial opposition – from business groups, a polarized Senate, and many other quarters – all agree that the time is right for this kind of measured change.  With all of the critical players finally at the table, the odds of achieving health care reform finally look very positive.

What to help?  Here’s what you can do:  Log in to Live the Mission, Blue Shield’s own site for health care reform news and action opportunities.  It only takes a moment, and once you’re in you’ll be able to keep yourself informed on the latest state, local and national updates on health care reform.

Don’t sit this one out.  Get involved.  There has never been a better time to participate!

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