28 December 2006

Ezra Klein in the LAT

Ezra Klein had a wonderful guest column a couple days ago in the Los Angeles Times on universal health care.
He begins with what, suddenly, so many people seem to know:

"THE STATISTICS, by now, are well known. Forty-seven million uninsured Americans. Premium increases of 81% since 2000. Small businesses failing, big businesses foundering, individuals priced out and, amid all this, skyrocketing profits for insurers, hospitals and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

"The American health system, put simply, is a mess. An expensive one. Indeed, in 2002, we spent $5,267 per capita on healthcare — $1,821 more than Switzerland, the nearest runner-up. And yet we had higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy, more price inflation and an actual uninsured population, a phenomenon virtually unknown in the rest of the developed world, where universal healthcare is, well, universal."

Klein writes that the end of gridlock over the mess of health care in the U.S. may come sooner than expected — and it does seem that way, with news from across the country on potential changes in the making. Here in Colorado, there's a "Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform," charged to give three to five proposals for comprehensive reform to the legislature by November 2007.

It's a complex and befuddling issue — which seems impossible to make cogent and efficient as long as the insurance companies and other for-profit entities are muddying the waters. However, Klein, who has been studying this for years, writes positively about Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-OR) plan, which keeps those guys in business.

Here's Klein:

"Surrounded by an unlikely array of union leaders and corporate chief executives, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has unveiled an inventive, comprehensive reform plan that would end the employer system forever. What businesses pay in employee premiums would be redirected to employee raises; insurers would offer their plans through state associations that would no longer allow price discrimination for reasons of health or job status; and everyone would have to buy in. Universal coverage would be achieved in under two years."

Klein also shares this number: California families, because of cost-shifting caused by the uninsured from the health care industry, pay an average of $1,186 annually in premiums right now.

This is unsustainable.

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