13 January 2007

Kennedy calls 10 to testify

With Democrats in the majority at the Capitol, there's finally talk there as well as in the states on reforming U.S. healthcare.

The United States should join enact a universal healthcare plan, said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). "America is heading to the bottom of the league of major nations in important measures of the quality of care," he said.

For his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, Sen. Kennedy called 10 witnesses.

Kevin Freking of the The Associated Press ran down a partial list of those testifying:

• Larry Burton, the Business Roundtable's executive director, wants change in medical liability laws and more information for consumers on the cost and quality of care. He also said that our high costs are damaging American business competitiveness globally.

• Andrew Stern, international president of the Service Employees International Union, called for a complete overhaul, saying employer-based insurance is dead.

• Karen Davis of the Commonwealth Fund urged the Senate to look at Denmark as a model. Denmark pays physicians a capped rate per patient (each handles an average of 1,500 patients), plus additional payment for services performed. Danish patients, who can make same-day appointments and also just show up for care, love their healthcare system.

On the dark side, the committee's Republicans think allowing small businesses to buy insurance for their employees through trade associations, without state mandates, would solve the problems. Those policies, possibly less expensive, could also really be crappy, collecting premiums every month with sky-high deductibles and — whoops — little in return when an emergency struck. People with those plans would probably not even know their insurance was little more than a scam until they needed it.

The insurance professional I've spoken with about this believes that insurance policies are by their nature too complex and difficult for the average consumer to understand.

Caveat emptor, say the free-market ideologues.

We can do better than that.

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