The New York Times
has an article today about the anemic approaches to covering the sickest Americans, those with chronic medical conditions who are often 'uninsurable' outside of group plans (generally corporate employers) - It shows why relying on high risk pools wont work.. (they are too expensive and such huge money-losers for the ststes that most don't have them, they also dramatically raise rates for the healthy in states that require that 'nobody be turned away'.) Also, the high risk pools are often limited in size (some have waiting lists that stretch on for years or even decades) or by income, leaving uninsured poor and middle class people who make more than two to four times the poverty level with nowhere to turn until they have 'spent down' all their assets, sold homes and cars, etc. to pay medical bills.
Medical bills are the largest cause of bankruptcies.
"The heart attack left Mr. Benamor with a $17,000 hospital bill, $400 in monthly prescription costs and a desperate need for insurance. After being rejected by a number of commercial carriers, he turned to the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, one of 35 state programs for high-risk applicants whom no private company is willing to insure."
These programs are very expensive, so only the very richest of the very sick can afford them.
"He decided that the annual premium -- $4,572 for a plan with heavy deductibles -- was more than he could handle on an income of about $35,000. Yet his earnings were too high for him to qualify for state subsidies.
"I'd like to get it, but what do you pay first?" Mr. Benamor asked at his dining room table. "Do you pay the mortgage? Do you pay your child support? Do you pay your car insurance? Do you pay for your medicine?""
Good question. I think I would pay rent first (if you don't have a home, your life is in danger) then food, then medicine, then child support.. There easily might not be any money left over for insurance.
In late April, Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, announced that if elected president he would seek to insure people like Mr. Benamor by vastly expanding federal support for state high-risk pools like Maryland's, or by creating a structure modeled after them. But as Mr. Benamor's case demonstrates, even well-regarded pools have served more as a stopgap than a solution."
"Though high-risk pools have existed for three decades, they cover only 207,000 people in a country with 47 million uninsured, according to the National Association of State Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans. Premiums typically are high, as much as twice the standard rate in some states, but are still not nearly enough to pay claims. That has left states to cover about 40 percent of the cost, usually through assessments on insurance premiums that are often passed on to consumers."
"Health economists say it could take untold billions to transform the patchwork of programs into a viable federal safety net. The McCain campaign has made only a rough calculation of how many billions would be needed and has not identified a source for the fi-nancing beyond savings from existing programs. Finding the money will only get more difficult now that Mr. McCain has pledged to balance the federal budget by 2013, which already requires a significant reduction in the growth of spending."
So, my guess is that given the cost, which equals at least 5% of Pentagon spending, McCain will postpone even starting to look at the problem till 2012 as Obama has done. Otherwise, he might need to reduce our spending on our thousands of overseas military bases and the black budget.
"Mr. McCain's proposal stands in sharp relief to that of his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who wants to require insurers to accept all applicants, regardless of their health. That is now the law in five states, including New York and New Jersey."
And in those states, insurance is very expensive. To many, its unaffordable.
"For those who can afford the premiums, or who qualify for subsidies in the 13 states that provide them, the high-risk programs can be a godsend."
"Richard and Susan Logan, both of whom have battled cancer this decade, said they were grateful to have coverage for themselves and their daughter through the Maryland plan, even though it will cost $22,232 this year."
(This is Obama's solution for those not in group plans, i.e. "nobody can be turned away" For thse who can afford the money, its great, because otherwise, their costs would be still higher. But it will increase the costs for the healthy dramatically. No wonder he doesn't want to attack this problem till his second term.)
"They had been rejected by 25 commercial insurers, said Mrs. Logan, 57, a part-time billing clerk for a physician."
"A fifth of the 14,000 participants in the Maryland plan receive subsidies that drop their premiums below the market rates charged to healthy people, said Richard A. Popper, the plan's director. But many in the middle find the policies both unaffordable and intolerably restrictive, and Mr. Popper estimates that two-thirds of those eligible have not enrolled."
"Almost all of the state pools impose waiting periods of up to a year before covering the health conditions that initially made it impossible to obtain insurance. In some states, fiscal pressures have forced heavy restrictions in coverage and enrollment. Florida, which has 3.8 million uninsured people, closed its pool to new applicants in 1991, and the membership has dwindled to 313."
"There is no census of the medically uninsurable. But in 2006, insurers turned down 11 percent of all individual applicants for medical reasons, including 22 percent of those 50 or older, according to America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group."
"Finding a way to cover the sickest of the uninsured is critically important because 15 percent of the population is responsible for three-fourths of health care spending. Many wind up in emergency rooms, which cannot legally reject them, leaving hospitals with more than $30 billion in unpaid bills each year."
"With the goal of making the insurance marketplace more equitable and competitive, Mr. McCain would end the longstanding exclusion from income taxes of health benefits paid by employers. The 17 million nonelderly people covered by directly purchased insurance do not enjoy that advantage."
"Currently, those who buy insurance individually often face higher costs because their risks are not spread across broad groups of workers. Though insurers cannot discriminate against participants in group plans, they evaluate consumers seeking individual coverage case by case to determine if they are worth the risk of coverage, and at what price. Insurers contend that if they had to charge the same rates to all comers, many would wait until they were sick to buy policies."
That is Obama's poison pill.. Most healthy Americans wont vote to make their insurance two or three or even four times more expensive.. so the proposal will die.