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Health Care Reform is On

November 12, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

In a sign that a major health care reform is coming in 2009, on Wednesday Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, released a healthcare reform blueprint that goes even further than what Barack Obama has proposed. Like Obama’s proposal, Baucus’ plan would set up a competitive market pitting private and public insurance options against each other and require insurance companies to provide coverage to everyone, regardless of previous or pre-existing conditions. But while Obama’s plan would require mandatory health insurance for children only, Baucus’ plan would guarantee health insurance for all Americans.

According to MarketWatch, the plan would:

  • Create a new health insurance exchange that would guarantee coverage for individuals and small businesses. They could compare prices between private health plans and a new public option similar to Medicare and use a standardized form to enroll in coverage. Some individuals and small businesses would be eligible for subsidies to offset the cost.
  • Allow people age 55 to 64 to buy in to Medicare immediately instead of having to wait for their 65th birthday to be eligible
  • Phase out the two-year waiting period that people with disabilities face when applying for Medicare coverage
  • Require states to make the state children’s health insurance program (SCHIP) available to children at or below 250% of the federal poverty level
  • Require most employers to make coverage available to their workers or pay into a fund
  • Require drugmakers and medical device companies to disclose the gifts they bestow on doctors and other providers in an effort to root out bias and conflicts of interest
  • Invest in health information technology and comparative effectiveness research

Liberal commentators, like Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein, are generally excited that this is where the health care debate is starting. But it’s important to recognize that this isn’t actual legislation. It’s still just a vague plan, and the political realities could lead to major parts of this being changed before it’s enacted. I could see, for example, the universal mandate being dropped as a concession to get 60 votes in the Senate.

Baucus’ full plan can be downloaded by clicking here.

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