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American Health Line

The Los Angeles Times today features opinion pieces by Ronald Brownstein, a Times columnist, and Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, on the problem of the uninsured. Summaries of the opinion pieces appear below.

– Brownstein: The nation’s safety net providers — public hospitals and not-for-profit community health clinics — face “such enormous demand” that they cannot “bear the weight of providing for so many individuals who have no means or paying for their care,” Brownstein writes.

Although President Bush has proposed increased funds for the 3,500 community health clinics nationwide, Brownstein writes that the proposal is “like buying a better Band-Aid” because safety net providers “can’t be stabilized without guaranteeing more Americans access to health insurance.” Bush has proposed to spend $90 billion on tax credits to help low-income U.S. residents purchase health insurance, but Brownstein calls the proposal “at best … another Band-Aid” because the “tax credit is so much smaller” than the cost of coverage.

Brownstein concludes, “It’s going to take much bolder thinking — and a lot more money — to shorten the line of the uninsured” (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 12/9).

– Court: Universal health care is “back in vogue,” but “it will take sacrifice by every stakeholder in health care to achieve it,” as the problem has “always been the politics, not the policy,” Court writes. He adds that today the “hope for a new political dynamic arises” because the U.S. health care system is “so broken that only radical change can save” it’s stakeholders. However, to implement a universal health care system, labor unions, hospitals, nurses, physicians, employers, health insurers and patients must “give something up,” Court writes.

For example, he writes that labor unions should consider a shift from employer-sponsored health insurance, and hospitals and physicians should agree to a public process that standardizes reimbursement rates. Nurses, some of whom have supported a single-payer health care system, should consider other proposals that “can achieve similar cost efficiency … while being politically more palatable,” Court writes.

He adds that employers must “break ranks” with health insurers, which must “agree to limits on profits and to strict government regulations of premiums and coverage.” In addition, middle- and upper-income U.S. residents must “recognize that the cure for unaffordable or unavailable health coverage is to support a plan that insures everyone,” Court writes.

He concludes that “the only hope for reform is that a critical mass will” agree (Court, Los Angeles Times, 12/9).

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