Thursday, August 16, 2007

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson Announces a Health Reform Plan

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson recently announced his health reform plan.

Richardson's health care proposal follows the general outline offered by other Democratic candidates in that it focuses first on getting everyone insured and falls short in getting at the fundamental problem creating so many uninsured--health care costs.

Bill Richardson's health plan also builds on existing public and private health insurance programs.

Richardson would:
  • Provide tax credits on a sliding scale to help residents purchase health insurance.
  • Require employers to pay a share of their worker's health care costs.
  • Allow people ages 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare.
  • Expand Medicaid and SCHIP to cover more low-income families and children.
  • Allow individuals and businesses to buy their health insurance from an expanded Federal Health Benefit Plan (the same program Congress and the President use).
  • Improve health care efficiency through the increased use of health care information technology.
  • Mandate that health insurers no longer can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Expand veterans care by giving them a "Heroes Card" enabling them to access the private system.
  • Limit interest rates applied to health care bills and credit cards.
  • Allow the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies.
  • Establish incentives for preventive care programs.
Richardson claims his plan would cost an estimated $110 billion per year but that the savings from the plan would cover the cost.

Richardson was quoted as saying, "Despite Republican hand-wringing about the cost of universal care, it is clear that the cost of doing something--in lives and dollars--pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing." He also said, "My plan does not build a new bureaucracy. The last thing we need between patients and doctors is another sticky web of red tape."

Like all of the leading Democratic candidates, Richardson is ready to move forward with a big and comprehensive reform plan. But he is not interested in a big government-run plan that would "build a new bureaucracy."

His claim that his program will cost nothing is at the outer edge of wishful thinking. Getting everyone covered will save lots of money. But it will take bundles of money up-front to get a program like this going.

Because the structure of his plan is similar to the plans already announced by rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards--and the plan coming from Hillary Clinton--his program costs will not be lower than theirs.

In many respects, this plan is comparable to the Massachusetts health plan that has found that granting access to insurance is only the beginning--being able to afford to get everyone in and then running the plan in a way that does control costs is the real challenge.

The Richardson health plan takes that first step but hardly addresses short-term affordability and long term costs.

But he is right about this, "It is clear that the cost of doing something--in lives and dollars--pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing."

But that statement will quickly become fatally flawed short-term thinking if he doesn't more realistically deal with the long-term costs and create an affordable strategy.

Series of posts on the Massachusetts health plan
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