Go Max Go! Sen. Baucus’ Health Plan for Universal Coverage

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) has recently announced that he is moving to sponsor legislation that would create a universal health care program for all Americans.  And to get it implemented within a year!  Thank you, Senator!  Although the full text of the proposal has not been released, here is the statement presented on his website (http://baucus.senate.gov/issues/healthcare.cfm):

Health Care

Quality, Affordable Health Insurance for All

Our health care system is in trouble: costs are rising at an unsustainable rate, too many Americans are uninsured, and quality of care isn’t up to par. High costs are making it increasingly difficult for Montana’s families and businesses to afford comprehensive health insurance, which means that Montana’s rate of uninsured is growing rapidly.  Although the United States spends twice as much on health care as any other country, we clearly don’t have twice as much health care.

Charting a Course for Health Care Reform

So how do we fix our health care system?  I see five broad principles of reform. As Chairman of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over the major public health insurance programs, I have begun a series of hearings to explore each principle in greater depth. By having an open and honest dialogue, I am confident that we can build momentum, find consensus, and bring about reform.

Universal Coverage: The first principle is universal coverage, every Montanan and American has a right to affordable health coverage. Universal coverage is essential if we are to make meaningful progress on the other four principles. We cannot address the health care system, if we leave a growing portion of the country behind. The solution, however, must build on the current system and must involve a public and private sector mix.

Sharing the Burden: The second principle is sharing the burden. Neither the employer-based system nor the individual market can fulfill the demand for affordable, portable, quality coverage. One way to ensure affordable coverage is to create “pooling” arrangements, which allow individuals and businesses alike to take advantage of their collective purchasing power and save in administrative costs.

Controlling Costs: The third principle is controlling costs. Health care costs are rising at four times the rate of inflation. America cannot sustain its current rate of growth in health care spending. Any serious proposal must slow the rate of growth of health care costs. Our economy and nation’s competitiveness depend upon it.

Prevention: The fourth principle is prevention. American health care tends to address what happens when you are sick. By making prevention the foundation of our health care system, we can spare patients needless suffering. We can avoid the high costs of treating an illness that has been allowed to progress.

Shared Responsibility: The fifth principle is shared responsibility. We want universal coverage. But the question is: Who will bear the burden of a new system? In my view, everybody must shoulder the burden together. Health coverage is a shared responsibility and all should contribute. That means individuals, employers and the government.

I believe we can reduce the number of the uninsured by building on existing programs, and we must protect and strengthen these programs as we work towards broader reform.

Sen Baucus’ plan closely follows the principles I endorse that have been articulated by the Catholic Health Association (see my blog posted 4 Nov ’08 ).  My one suggestion to him is that “Prevention” necessarily needs to be priority #2, because, as I have explained in earlier posts, clear goals for prevention provides a foundation on which costs have to be based.  I’m aware that Business believes that costs must be addressed first, but based on my theoretical assessment, that approach will not work.

Thanks, Max.  We look forward to seeing the full text of your proposal very soon!

Getting Ready for the Real Work: Health Care After the Election

Twenty-four hours from now we will know who the next President of the United States will be.  That will be the moment the real work for bringing health care to all Americans begins.  Obama’s plan or McCain’s?  The AMA’s “Voice for the Uninsured” or AARP’s “Divided We Fail?”

If you have been a regular reader of my blog you know that I have reservations about all of the above.  All of them have a fundamental policy flaw: they begin with trying to control the cost of health insurance, but without a clear strategy for how to first establish national goals for a healthy America.  As a result, I am convinced that these plans will never work as promised, and in the end, cost us billions of dollars as well as come nowhere close to the medical and health needs for a healthy America across generations.

One nationally-based organization has designed a plan that parallels my primary assumptions for health care.   That organization is the Catholic Health Association, which is the voice for most Catholic-related hospitals and other health care facilities.  Now, don’t go squeamish on me, just because you might not agree with Roman Catholic theology and doctrines relating to contraception and abortion (or even if you do).  Instead, I invite my readers to thoughtfully consider the principles put forth in what they call the “CHA Vision.”

Disclosure: I work for a Catholic hospital that supports CHA principles, but is not a CHA-system hospital.  I am a member of a Protestant denomination.

Here is CHA’s promotional PowerPoint.  (Of course, you’ll need at least PowerPoint viewer to open this)  (CHA Vision courtesy of Catholic Health Association).


As always, I invite your comments.

And be sure you vote!