Southern California Public Radio (KPCC 89.3 FM Pasadena, CA)
The following commentary by Jamie Court was broadcast on KPCC 89.3FM in Pasadena, CA, on Tuesday, February 27th, 2007. Click here to listen to the commentary.
The state legislature is considering proposals by the Governor and legislative leaders to provide health insurance for all Californians. Commentator Jamie Court says unfortunately the debate is less about what Sacramento can do for us, than about what politicians can do for their biggest contributors.
Jamie Court (FTCR): A strange thing happened on the way to health care security. The goal of universal health care in California has morphed into the cause of making everyone buy health insurance.
That’s what Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan would do, regardless of the cost, and with no control of premiums. The Democrats are getting in on the act, too. State Senate leader Don Perata wants to require Californians to buy health insurance on the open market if they don’t have it through their work, or if they make too much to qualify for government subsidies. Under Perata’s plan, those who didn’t buy insurance would face tax penalties.
Even backers of Canadian-style universal health care are jumping on the bandwagon. Democratic State Senator Sheila Kuehl is pushing a bill to eliminate private health insurers and have the state manage health care. But she has also co-authored Senator Perata’s plan to force people to buy insurance.
Doctors, insurers, hospitals and a major health-care union have all joined hands in support of this approach. The new mantra they’re all chanting is “shared responsibility.” Unfortunately, “shared responsibility” translates to, “patients will pay whatever doctors, hospitals and insurers want to charge.”
Problem is, this approach won’t work. Under the governor’s plan, a family of four making 52-thousand dollars a year would have to buy insurance on its own. And the average annual cost of market-rate insurance for that family today is about 11-thousand bucks a year. Mom or dad would probably have to take a night job to afford that kind of bill.
Politicians should be bucking the powerful medical insurance complex by regulating medical costs. But Schwarzenegger, Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez have all refused to consider rate regulation of the type that worked so successfully to cut auto and homeowner insurance rates. Why buck their biggest political contributors?
Without strict state regulation of insurance premiums and prices charged by hospitals and doctors, mandatory private insurance can have only two possible results. Either prices will be prohibitively high, or benefits so severely restricted that patients won’t get what they need.
Either way, patients lose, unless doctors, hospitals and insurers are forced to share their part of the burden.