July 20, 2004
Group Urges Universal Health Coverage
Filed at 6:45 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rapidly rising costs, soaring numbers of uninsured and an epidemic of poor care have caused a health care crisis that only sweeping reform will solve, an alliance of business, labor, religious and civic groups said Tuesday.
The National Coalition on Health Care said Congress should require that everyone have basic health insurance, with subsidies for those who can't afford it. It also called for holding down premiums for the basic package, simplifying health care administration and reducing medical errors by tying payments to quality, among other things.
``Small changes, incremental changes are not sufficient,'' said coalition president Henry Simmons, a physician who served in three Republican administrations. ``We've had 40 years of failure with experiments with that strategy.''
The coalition did not endorse any specific approach, but said the options could include a single-payer system, mandates on employers to offer insurance and expansion of public programs.
The number of Americans without insurance is projected to top 51 million by 2006, up from 41 million in 2001, the group said. The average annual premium for employer-sponsored coverage for a family will be $14,565 in 2006, more than double what it was in 2001, the coalition said. The figures represent the total paid for the insurance by employer and employee combined.
The proposal follows an Institute of Medicine recommendation, issued in January, that the government provide universal health insurance. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart-lung transplant surgeon, called the current system ``unacceptable.''
Middle-class Americans are now feeling the effects of the problems, from steadily increasing premiums to loss of benefits from their employers, giving the topic added political punch, Simmons said. ``The middle class votes,'' said Frist, R-Tenn.
Citing Frist's remarks, former Rep. Paul Rogers, a Florida Democrat and co-chairman of the coalition, said he sees signs the issue is reaching a tipping point, 10 years after President Clinton's health care overhaul stalled in Congress.
``You're hearing people from both political parties saying the current system is unworkable,'' Rogers said.
Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, a Republican, said the crisis is constantly worsening.
``You cannot have increases in premiums of 14 percent when inflation is 2 1/2 percent,'' Ray said. ``You cannot have costs rising four times faster than wages.''
The coalition says it has picked up more than 40 new members in the past 18 months, including Bell South, the energy company Cinergy, General Electric and General Motors.
``When did you last hear some of the largest corporations in America call on government to come in and fix this problem?'' Simmons said.
The coalition on Tuesday brought together a number of prominent Americans, including AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, AARP president Bill Novelli and the leaders of large corporations, pension systems and religious groups.
On the Net:
National Coalition on Health Care: http://www.nchc.com