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Bush Health Plan

Hoping to gain support for his health care proposal, President Bush pledged to reach across party lines to reform the nation's medical insurance system so more of the 46 million uninsured Americans can afford coverage.

"From my conversations with Democrats and Republicans, it is clear both parties recognize that strengthening health care for all Americans is one of our most important responsibilities," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "I am confident that if we put politics aside, we can find practical ways to improve our private health care system."

Tuesday, five Republicans and five Democrats told Bush that they have agreed on a blueprint for increasing health insurance coverage and want to work with him on it. The White House quickly took the lawmakers up on their offer. Bush has proposed a major shift in tax policy that would, for the first time, treat health insurance costs as taxable income. "Today, the tax code unfairly penalizes people who do not get health insurance through their job," said Bush, who will meet with health care experts in the White House next week.

"If you buy health insurance on your own, you pay much more after taxes than if you get it through your job," he said. "I proposed to end this unfair bias in the tax code by creating a standard tax deduction for every American who has health insurance, whether they get it through their job or on their own."

Bush wants a tax deduction of $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for families regardless of whether they buy their own health insurance or receive medical coverage at work.

Cancer and Health Insurance

A state legislator wants to make sure cancer survivors are cured not only in the eyes of medicine, but in those of the law, too. Rep. Marshall Quandt, R-Exeter, has proposed a bill that would declare a person cancer-free after five years of negative testing.

Quandt said New Hampshire has no guidelines about when a person is determined to be cured from cancer. The result is that health insurance carriers can turn a person down for coverage or charge them more if they've had cancer.

Quandt said dubbing someone cancer-free after five years would help with these unnecessary expenses. The bill was inspired by one of his constituents, a breast cancer survivor, who brought the problem to his attention. "Seven years breast cancer-free, and she's still paying through the nose for health insurance," said Quandt, who is optimistic about its passage. "At some point, a person needs to have peace of mind, that (they) licked this."

The bill would allow cancer survivors not to report their illness after five years of good health. "It says if you've been cancer-free, you don't have to tell a carrier you've had a cancer diagnosis," said Leslie Ludtke, a health policy analyst for the state Department of Insurance.

Cancer survivors like Bonnie McSpiritt, 49, of Londonderry said the passage of the bill would not only be great financially, but emotionally as well.

"When you're five years out, you want to believe you're a real survivor and you're cancer-free," said McSpiritt, who has been breast cancer-free for seven years. "But you always have that doubt. To have health insurance companies recognize you as that, I mean, that's just fantastic.

McSpiritt said the bill would be especially helpful for people who are cancer survivors and don't have insurance or are switching insurance carriers. "A lot of people out there don't have health insurance but have had cancer," McSpiritt said. "They've had to pay more money because they had a pre-existing condition." But Ludtke said there could be problems with the bill, and there are parts that need to be clarified. "It's forcing (insurance companies) to put blinders on," Lutdke said. "They would probably raise their rates to absorb the greater risk."

Uninsured Americans

Young adults may put health insurance low on their list of priorities, but financial planners and hospitals both say going without coverage is a risk not worth taking.

A car accident or case of appendicitis could land a person of any age in the hospital, and without insurance, with a big bill after being discharged.

Adults younger than 35 are nearly twice as likely to be uninsured as adults 45 and older, according to a report by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Twenty-seven percent of young adults in their 20s have no health insurance, according to a poll conducted by USA Today and the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Until recently, Conza VanEarwage, 21, of Moline, fell into that category. For three years of her adult life, she went without health insurance. As a teenager, her family also went without health insurance for several years when her father was unemployed. Six months ago, she applied for public aid because she is expecting a baby in April.

The jobs she worked during those three years didn't offer health insurance, and she opted not to purchase any on her own. "One of the reasons was I didn't know how to even go about doing that," she said. "I probably wouldn't have been real eager to figure it out because I wouldn't have thought I had money to do it anyway." Not having health insurance wasn't really a worry during that time. "I figured if something dire happened it would work out," she said.

Many young adults decide to risk not having health insurance because they assume they will stay healthy and won't need it. Taking that chance is not a good idea, said John E. Miller, a financial consultant with John E. Miller Financial Services in downtown Rock Island. "It's too risky," he said. Medical bills can cause people to get into major debt "and they can't get out," he said. "Trying to get that paid off is a challenge," he said. "Usually it's impossible." In that case, the patient needs to file for bankruptcy, which will ruin their finances for years, he said. Even a short hospital stay can run into the thousands of dollars.

Leah Turnmire, coordinator of reimbursement for Trinity Regional Health System, said college students typically still are covered under their parents' insurance and many Augustana College students have coverage through the college. However, she often sees young adults who are not in school and who don't have insurance. "A lot of your early 20s, late 20s, the way you see those patients is they come to the Emergency Room," she said. "A lot of them don't have a physician because they are never sick and then all of the sudden you have a bad ear infection or a sore throat."

Typically, the young adults Ms. Turnmire sees without insurance are single, without children. "Ones with kids are on public aid so they are covered," she said.

Trinity offers financial assistance for any patient. The patient fills out a financial application and, based on their income, the number of people in their household and the amount they owe, a payment plan is worked out. The system is based on the federal poverty guidelines. Part or all of the bill also can be waived depending on a person's income, Ms. Turnmire said.

Young adults without insurance often tell Mr. Turnmire they are working at jobs that don't provide it or they can't afford the premiums. Mr. Miller suggests young adults without insurance get a health-insurance plan with a high deductible, but lower premiums. This will cover them in case of an accident or serious illness, but still keep their premiums low.

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