Health Care News
Taken from the May 15, 2000 Issue of Health Care Justice Now: U2K Update
Citizens Health Initiative
Cites Medical Bills for Many Bankruptcies
Health Care System Throws Doubt On Bush Health Care Record
Candidates Launch Effort to Make Health Care Issues Big
Congress Enact a Strong Prescription Drugs Bill?
Maryland Citizens Health Initiative
Releases Independent Study that Shows Economic Viability of Universal Health
Care for Maryland
At a press conference hosted by Bon Secours Baltimore Health System on May
2nd, the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative ("Initiative") released
an economic study conducted by the nationally renowned economists, the Lewin
Group. The study found that if Maryland adopted a single-payer insurance
plan for achieving universal health care, the state could provide health care
for all of its citizens and save $345 million on total health care spending.
The study also found that MD could provide health care for all Marylanders with
a mult-payer insurance system for only $207 million more than the state
presently spends on health care.
For more information, contact Vinnie DeMarco at 410/235-9000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a full copy of the study, visit the Initiative web site at www.healthcareforall.com.
For media reports on the release, visit these links: http://www.sunspot.net/content/cover/story
Study Cites Medical
Bills for Many Bankruptcies
Nearly half of the more than 1 million Americans who filed for bankruptcy
protection last year did so in part because they could not cope with medical
bills or other financial consequences of illness or injury, says a recent study
by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. The study is to be published
this month in Norton's Bankruptcy Advisor, a specialty periodical.
"I thought we'd be looking at a wholly uninsured group of Americans, and
we're not," said Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. "These
data suggest that under-insurance is a far bigger problem for middle-class
families." Middle-class American families are "one serious illness
away from financial collapse," she added. "What a scary way to
think about America."
The study provides justification for the argument that America's health care
crisis affects not only the 45 million, uninsured Americans, but also the
increasing number of under-insured Americans. The increasing fragility of
health care security for most Americans is spurring a number of efforts to
create a broad-based movement for universal health care.
Health Care System Throws Doubt On Bush Health Care Record
According to the April 19 edition of Health Line (an Internet clipping service
concerning major health care issues in the news), a study by the Center for
Disease Control showed that Texas has the lowest ranking in the country for
Hispanic women age 50 and older who had a breast exam in the last two years.
"Part of the reason for the disparities is the high number of uninsured
Hispanics in Texas," Health Line notes. In 1997, 47% of Hispanic
women ages 18 to 64 were without h alth care coverage, significantly higher than
the national average. The release of information highlighting Texas' poor
health record casts serious doubt on former Texas Governor George Bush's claim
that his health care proposals will improve America's health care system.
Congressional Candidates Launch Effort
to Make Health Care Issues Big in 2000 Elections
In the April 25 edition of Health Line, The New York Times is quoted as calling
George Bush's health care plan a "case study in the carefully calibrated
philosophy of compassionate conservatism." But will it work? The
Democrats are launching campaign efforts to exploit its weaknesses and to make
health care issues big in the 2000 elections. Bush's plan provides a
$2,000 tax credit for families and $1,000 for individuals - allowing people to
cover as much as 90% of the costs of health insurance, he claims. Democrats
argue the Bush plan will not cover the costs of health care for families.
In the April 26 edition of Health Line, a Harris Poll reveals that Americans
trust Democrats to handle four major health care issues better than Republicans.
The survey states that "majorities of the public see a Democratically
controlled Congress as more likely to do a better job than Republicans on making
health care affordable to as many people as possible, patient protection,
preserving Medicare and introducing a Medicare drug benefit."
According to the poll, respondents felt that making affordable health care
widely available was the most important health care issue. The Harris Poll also
showed that Presidential candidate Al Gore gained the support of a clear
majority on only one issue - making health care affordable to as many Americans
as possible. "Al Gore and the Democrats need to find a way to bring
these issues to life," said Humphrey Taylor of the Harris Poll.
Nonetheless, most Democrats are pushing piecemeal health care reform efforts,
such as ensuring a strong Patients' Bill of Rights, affordable prescription drug
coverage and expansion of safety net programs. There is little evidence
that such piecemeal reforms will lead to the sort of health care reform
Americans need and want - that is, a nationally guaranteed health care system -
so much as placing Band Aids on a sick system.
The poll suggests that activists for universal health care have a huge
opportunity this election season to raise the issue of fundamental health care
reform as a major issue in the 2000 elections, with candidates from both
political parties. Health care justice activists have a chance to inform the
public about the health care records of Congressional candidates, as well as
stances on universal health care, to tell people to "vote for their
health." The poll also suggests that most American believe lack of
affordability and accessibility the most significant health care issues - which
provides an opportunity to educate the public about universal health care.
Will Congress Enact a Strong Prescription Drugs
Bill this Election
Season? An Analysis of the Democratic Proposal (From Public Citizen)
The Democratic proposal for a Medicare prescription drug benefit will do too
little to curb the ever-increasing prescription drug costs, watchdog group
Public Citizen said in a press release on May 16th.
"The proposal represents half a pill," said Joan Claybrook, President
of Public Citizen. "While we commend President Clinton and Democratic
leaders for putting forward a comprehensive proposal with a strong drug benefit,
it has a wholly inadequate mechanism for reigning in skyrocketing prescription
drug costs, which is the lynchpin to ensuring that a benefit is affordable for
taxpayers and sustainable for Medicare recipients."
The two-page proposal, which is modeled on Clinton's plan with some
modifications, would go further than Clinton's original plan in providing
catastrophic coverage. But it would rely on private regional networks to
negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies, which would not go far
enough to curb drug costs.
"Democratic leaders refused to incorporate the best cost containment
mechanism now before Congress the Prescription Drug Fairness for Seniors
Act," said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch.
That act, HR 664, sponsored by Rep. Tom Allen of Maine, would require that the
best prices be offered to all Medicare beneficiaries, effectively cutting prices
up to 40 percent from retail level. This would reduce drug company
revenues a modest 3.3 percent because of the increased demand that would result
from making the drugs more affordable.
Clemente said, "It would appear that the lobbying and advertising tactics
of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have scared off
Democratic officials from doing what is in the best interests of their
constituents. Obviously, America's seniors are away ahead of
thepoliticians of both parties on this one."
STRENGTHS OF THE PROPOSAL:
** Would provide a universal drug benefit as part of the Medicare program,
rather than expanded private insurance coverage of prescription drugs, as
proposed by Repub. Leaders
**A beneficiary's out-of-pocket costs would be limited to $3,000 per year
adjusted for inflation, which represents a substantial improvement over
Clinton's original proposal, which lacked such a cap.
**Would cover 100 percent of a Medicare beneficiary's annual drug costs,
including premiums, for seniors below 135% of poverty level. This would
provide full coverage to nearly 13 million Medicare recipients.
WEAKNESSES OF THE PROPOSAL:
**Reliance on Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM's) is wholly inadequate. Even
with the proposed improvements in how PBM's would operate, the administration
estimates savings at about 15 percent off retail, much less than the 40 percent
under the Allen bill.
**Without strong measures to lower drug prices and change industry marketing
practices, rising prescription drug expenses will erode the value of the annual
**The 50 percent cost sharing arrangement will still be a burden for many
seniors with high drug bills. Two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries are
above 135 percent of the poverty level, which is the cut-off point for the
government paying premium costs and out-of-pocket costs. Under the
proposal, a widowed senior with $12,500 in annual income and a $4,000 annual
drug bill would spend $2,300 on prescription drugs, or 18 percent of her annual
For more information, contact Guillermo Nicacio at Public Citizen (a U2K
Endorser) at GNICACIO@citizen.org or