Health Insurance (Public Option)
Gary Zuckett is making forays across West Virginia to sell a national health care plan while attempting to shatter the “myths” generated by the nation’s private insurance network.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of scare tactics being used by the opposition,” says Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia-Citizen Action Group.
“We’re going to have a good fight on our hands. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to really make significant reforms that I think would benefit everybody in this country and everybody here in West Virginia.”
Zuckett is taking his message to town hall-style meetings arranged by labor groups that a national plan, now in limbo in Congress, would fill in the cracks through which many low-income workers are falling while exposing no senior to risk, nor threatening anyone satisfied with a private carrier.
“The insurance industry is doing an excellent job of confusing and scaring people, and the Rush Limbaugh crowd is saying it’s going to be a death sentence for seniors,” the WV-CAG leader said in a Register-Herald interview.
“I don’t know how to figure that one out. One of the reasons we’re doing editorial meetings is just to sort of clear the air and get the facts out there.”
One common criticism leveled at the plan is that government simply cannot run a business, period.
“If you look at Medicare, that system uses around 3 percent of its income in administration, and the rest goes toward health care services,” Zuckett said.
“If you look at the private insurance market, they’re up in the 20 to 30 percent range that they eat up in administration, advertising, multimillion-dollar CEO salaries — all the stuff that isn’t providing health care to people. So, that argument falls flat.”
As for seniors left in the lurch, Zuckett considers this another myth that can be shattered easily.
“You try to take Medicare away from seniors, and you’re in for a fight,” he said.
“That’s not going to happen. They’re not going to cut Medicare. There are going to be some changes in Medicare to take back some of the basically insurance industry subsidies passed during the Bush years.”
One glaring deficiency is in the prescription plan that forces seniors to pay 100 percent out of their pockets for medicine, and forbids the program from negotiating with the drug industry to lower prices, although the Veterans Administration is allowed to do so, he said.
Another misconception is that choice is abandoned. Not so, says Zuckett, because anyone happy with a private carrier may remain in that coverage plan.
Three means of financing the plan are on the table. One would impose a surcharge of about 1 percent of the federal income tax on those earning $300,000, affecting about one-half of 1 percent of all West Virginia taxpayers, he said.
“That would cost those people an extra $4 a week — a couple of cups of coffee, or a pack of cigarettes a week,” Zuckett said.
“They want to spread out the costs among people that can most afford to pay it. It doesn’t make sense to tax people in the low income or the middle income scale to pay for health care to give them because they can’t afford health care already.”
A second approach, advanced by President Obama, would scale back itemized deductions for those in higher income brackets, say from the existing 40 cents on the dollar to 28 cents.
A third payment method would impose taxes beyond earned income, since some people are living off various sources of income without paying into Medicare, even though they will use it once eligible, Zuckett said.
“These are three not very painful ways to pay for this program,” he said.
Critics also are misleading Americans into thinking the plan eliminates a patient’s choice of doctors, he said.
“That’s not going to change,” he said. “We’re not picking doctors. We’re talking about health insurance, the way it’s paid for.”
In fact, he said, the medical community should applaud the idea because they no longer would be battling for every reimbursement as they now do with private carriers.
“Another plus for the public plan — and I think this is a big plus for a lot of people — it will be portable,” he said. “You can take it from job to job. If you lose your job, you wouldn’t lose your insurance.”
From 2000 to 2007, one report Zuckett displayed shows, health insurance premiums for working families in West Virginia soared by 75 percent. The annual combined premium for employers and workers shot from $6,844 to $11,970. The cost shared by employers and workers for insurance equals nearly 30 percent of the state’s median family income.
Some 140,000 nonseniors work at jobs without health plans, or 61 percent of that segment of the work force.
Included in the health care package are some reforms that would bar insurance firms from dropping policyholders if they are stricken or eliminating people with pre-existing conditions.
“We’re letting the insurance industry basically kill people here because they refuse treatments, pre-existing conditions, that sort of thing,” Zuckett said.
“You can’t blame insurance companies because they’re in business to make money for their stockholders. And the more treatment they withhold, the more money they make. It’s a bottom line decision. It’s pretty heartless. You can talk about the ethics of it.”
A “Turn Around America” rally is planned at 1 p.m. Sunday at the state Capitol, not only to focus on health care, but to draw attention to the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, aimed at compelling employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers sign authorization cards; raising penalties on firms that coerce, intimidate or fire workers trying to organize; and ushering in a neutral third party to resolve labor disputes.
“We have a problem,” Zuckett said of the health care status in America. “There is not enough competition in the market. That’s another reason we need this public plan — put a little competition in there. That’s the way it should be.”
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