Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Does Bush's No-Frills Health Care Plan Go Far Enough?

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Does Bush's No-Frills Health Care Plan Go Far Enough?

Article excerpt

NEW YORK (AP) _ Covered: setting a broken arm, a measles vaccine, dialysis. Not covered: glasses, fillings, psychotherapy.

It's your basic no-frills health plan, and it may be within reach for many of the 35 million Americans without medical insurance under a system of vouchers and credits proposed by President Bush.

A voucher or tax credit for $3,750 _ the maximum offered under the plan _ would be awarded to families of three or more; individuals would be eligible for up to $1,250 a year.

But is that enough?

Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co., the nation's leading provider of individual policies, said it would charge $3,884 a year to insure an "average" family, defined as a non-smoking 40-year-old husband, his 35-year-old wife and two children.

That's just $174 above what the government would kick in. But there are other out-of-pocket costs _ the policy has a $500 deductible and will only cover 80 percent of most doctor and hospital charges.

Prices vary geographically. Kathy Feirstein, a spokeswoman for Milwaukee-based Time Insurance Co., said the average family might pay $3,245 a year in Denver but $4,258 in Phoenix. (Hospital charges would be paid at 100 percent _ after deductibles have been met _ if the insured uses a hospital that has a contract with Time.) People with pre-existing conditions, like heart problems or diabetes, would pay higher premiums. Mutual of Omaha spokesman Joe Pittman said 3 percent of those applying for coverage are "uninsurable" because of serious pre- existing problems.

"This doesn't mean everyone without insurance will have coverage,"

said Donald White, spokesman for the Health Insurance Association of America. "But it does guarantee that people who want it will be able to get it."

But even the White House concedes that 4.9 million people would be without health insurance after five years of the plan's enactment. Critics also argue that with spiraling medical costs, the voucher amounts will be far less meaningful by the time the plan is phased in.

And only the poorest families _ those below the poverty line _ would be eligible for the full $3,750. The benefits decline as income rises. …

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