OBAMACARE: a dream deferred?

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.

“What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? / Or fester like a sore and then run?” – Langston Hughes

Ahimsa-Cynthia-Cindy-100607-by-John-Morton-web, OBAMACARE: a dream deferred?, News & Views Back on the front burner! The Obama White House has taken the “bull by the horns” in an effort to move the momentum of national health reform forward in the midst of stagnation, charges of political corruption and back room deal making and a shifting tide of public opinion regarding the need for massive overhaul of our nation’s health care system. On Thursday, Feb. 25, I watched the proceedings of the historic Blair House bipartisan summit on health reform. In advance of that televised forum, the White House released a blueprint health care plan drafted by the Obama administration.

The 10 year, $950 billion plan would allow the federal government a greater role in regulating the private health care industry to control premium hikes. The plan does not offer a government run public option but creates state health exchanges that allow states to offer consumers a shopping place for coverage. Abortion activists have been appeased by revisions within the plan that allow states to decide whether to provide abortion services.

The White House summit was successful in bringing key players in the health care debate to the table. There was consensus only in recognition of the need for change of the current system. The president exercised strength and dominance in providing irrefutable evidence that his plan will ultimately lower health insurance rates for most consumers.

There has been great media debate centered on the costs of uncompensated care for the uninsured. Currently the federal government ultimately pays about 75 percent of the estimated $6 billion a year spent in providing primary, specialty and emergency care services to the uninsured in our nation. The question remains, is the national health reform effort a dream deferred?

Perhaps even more historic than the White House summit was the Congressional hearing carried live on C-Span Wednesday, Feb. 25, on repealing the antitrust exemption the health insurance industry has enjoyed in our nation. This exemption has allowed insurers to act in “collusion” to increase rates, to act as a monopoly within states to block competition and to lobby elected officials to engage in legislative malpractice.

The Republican opposition to expansion of coverage to meet the needs of 30 million uninsured Americans is based in the belief, expressed in a CNN interview by economist Ben Stein, that Republicans contribute a greater percent to the U.S. tax base. While the Republicans have failed to produce a comprehensive plan to counter the Democrats, the idea of offering a refundable tax credit up to $5,700 for families to purchase health insurance is circulating.

The House health care plan includes a requirement that individuals over a certain income level obtain coverage or face financial penalties of either a flat fee or a percentage of their income. The penalty for failing to get health insurance would increase to 2.5 percent of an individual’s annual income or a flat fee of $695. Both progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans have failed to eagerly embrace the White House plan.

WellPoint Inc., the nation’s largest health insurer, announced plans to increase insurance premium rates by 39 percent in California on 700,000 individual policy holders. State Attorney General Jerry Brown announced intent to investigate rate hikes of health insurers and, on Feb. 22, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner accused WellPoint subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross of 700 violations of law including failure to pay claims, consumer fraud and “belligerent” failure to cooperate with regulators in the state insurance commissioner’s office. Obama called the WellPoint rate hike a “preview of coming attractions if national health reform fails.”

“Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load.”

Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai can be reached at (415) 835-4763 or asumchai@sfbayview.com.