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Health Care News

Taken from the May 15, 2000 Issue of Health Care Justice Now: U2K Update
Maryland Citizens Health Initiative 
Study Cites Medical Bills for Many Bankruptcies
Texas Health Care System Throws Doubt On Bush Health Care Record
Congressional Candidates Launch Effort to Make Health Care Issues Big 
Will 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 demarco@mdinitiative.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  
http://www.HometownAnnapolis.com
http://jrnl.net/news/00/May

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.

Texas 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 cap.
**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 income.

For more information, contact Guillermo Nicacio at Public Citizen (a U2K Endorser) at GNICACIO@citizen.org or 202/546-4996.

 

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