Monday, October 08, 2007

It's a Lot Less Socialized When It's Your Health Insurance

This week, it’s health care demagoguery at its very best. My suggested headline was "GOP: Government Health Insurance for Me, But Not For Thee!" but the editor’s choice works just as well. Amazing how socialized medicine suddenly isn’t quite so socialized when it’s your own coverage.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 7, 2007

President Bush’s opposition to renewing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program proves that you can call a political philosophy that opposes both abortion and providing health care to children many things, but you shouldn’t call it "pro-life."

If Bush vetoed SCHIP because it’s important to limit government involvement in health care, then President Bush -- and the congressional Republicans who support him, like Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. John Shadegg -- should lead the way, showing some personal responsibility.

As federal government employees, both Bush political appointees and elected officials can get health insurance from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. It’s a very good plan; according to the OPM website, federal employees, retirees, and survivors enjoy the widest selection of health plans in America.

FEHB provides better coverage than most private groups, and certainly better than what individuals can purchase. FEHB beneficiaries can pick from among dozens of plans, of all types -- unlike private-sector folks, who usually have to take whatever their employer offers. FEHB has no waiting periods and no pre-existing condition limitations, both on initial enrollment and whenever you change plans.

The federal government also pays the majority of the premiums; the average is 72 percent, meaning that employees pay at least a quarter, but usually not much more than that, of the cost. And the employee share can be paid with pre-tax dollars.

But there are two things to keep in mind about FEHB. First, it’s a government program that provides health insurance. The words "federal" and "program" are even in the name for those whose knowledge of public policy is limited to what fits on a 3-by-5 card. It’s administered by a federal agency. It uses tax dollars to help pay for enrollees’ health insurance.

FEHB works essentially the same way as SCHIP in Arizona -- if FEHB had fewer choices and skinnier coverage. Eligible children are placed into managed-care plans, which contract with providers. The co-pays and deductibles are adjusted, given the low incomes of those in Arizona who qualify ($41,300 for a family of four is the Arizona cap, well below the state’s median income of $61,000), but to an outside observer, it looks almost identical to how a federal employee’s health insurance works.

Second, unlike SCHIP, FEHB’s subsidy has no means testing whatsoever. Any federal employee, from the lowliest House member to the most exalted Senator, gets the 72 percent subsidy. Every Member of Congress who gets health insurance through FEHB makes far more than $82,600, as do most every political appointee in the Bush administration.

If Republicans think it’s so vitally important to reduce the role of government in health care, then why are they accepting FEHB benefits and increasing the role of government in health care? They could trumpet their fiscal responsibility by noting that each GOPer who declines FEHB is saving the taxpayers a couple thousand dollars each year. They could use so-called Medical Savings Accounts and tax-sheltered plans to purchase their own coverage, without government involvement.

If it’s so important to keep government out of health care that Bush will deny insurance, which means denied care, which means sickness and deaths that otherwise could be prevented, then shouldn’t these GOPers lead by example? No member of the Bush administration and GOP politician making more than $82,600 should get health insurance from a government program. Ask Shadegg, Kyl, and anybody else supporting Bush how they get their health insurance.

Remember when J.D. Hayworth held a press conference to discuss his stomach-stapling surgery? He answered all sorts of personal, medical questions, until a reporter asked how the operation was paid for. Hayworth suddenly interrupted his disquisition about recent developments in his gastric tract to demand that reporters respect his privacy.

So the Bush position is pretty clear: It’s fine if Republican politicians get health insurance through a government program. It’s an outrage if children get health insurance through a government program.

‘Wingers hate it when liberals justify positions by asking, "What about the children?" because to Republicans, children matter so much less than ideology.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Unlike Rep. Jeff Flake, I would have voted for the expansion of S-CHIP. (I am currently the only Democrat running for the CD6 U.S. House seat.)

Republicans say it is only the first step toward — well, they call it socialized medicine — but what they really mean is a single-payer system: Medicare for kids, seniors, and everyone in between.

I have been uninsured for over a year, but I’m an adult. Let’s cover kids now, and who cares how much their parents’ income is? Billionaires’ kids can go to public schools after all — and that’s how it should be.

Jeff Flake and the other Republican members of Arizona’s Congressional delegation who voted against S-CHIP should be ashamed of themselves.