Stark proposes universal health coverage plan

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U.S. Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, yesterday introduced a bill that aims to provide universal health coverage based on the Medicare model and employer-based system already in place. Stark introduced the bill (“AmeriCare Health Care Act”) with the support of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and more than 25 of their colleagues, according to a release from Stark’s office.

“Debates on healthcare tend to occur every 10 to 15 years, when costs rise to a level that attracts national attention. As we edge closer to our next discussion, the fundamental question before us is if medical care is a civic and social right like police and fire services, education, and national defense,” said Stark. “AmeriCare builds on Medicare, an efficient, popular, and successful program, to provide universal coverage with minimal disruption to our current system.”

Under this proposal, people would either receive coverage through their employer or through AmeriCare, a new program modeled on Medicare. AmeriCare would cover preventive, physician, hospital, mental health services, maternity coverage and an affordable prescription drug benefit. The bill would also limit out-of-pocket costs.

AmeriCare would provide additional benefits for children (individuals under 24) and those with incomes less than 300 percent of the poverty level. Supplemental benefits would also be available via employers or purchased through private insurance companies.  Funding for the program would come from contributions from employers, individuals, and states, all of whom pay into our current healthcare system. Those already with coverage would be allowed to keep it and their doctors under the plan.

Stark claims that AmeriCare would save billions by utilizing Medicare’s administrative infrastructure. AmeriCare would also mimic the Medicare model of operating on a 2 to 3 percent operational margin, and would save more costs by requiring that the Secretary of Health and Human Services negotiate with drug makers on drug prices and get behind efforts to expand the use of health IT.

Republicans most likely are to be highly opposed to this system. They favor such things as tax-free health savings accounts which enable people to save up for medical expenses in the future; granting small businesses tax breaks for providing coverage to workers; and would like to reduce lawsuits against doctors, hospitals and drugmakers that, some people, cause costs to go up. Stark and his backers believe these suggestions are insufficient ways to deal with the mounting healthcare costs and coverage faced by most Americans, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

"The question is whether society will provide coverage for everyone or for just a wealthy few,'' Stark said, adding that "everyone should benefit from this bill, with the exception of the bankruptcy bar and collection agencies,'' the Chronicle reports.

Stark’s proposal could come with a $50 billion to $60 billion yearly tab for the federal government to get it rolling. But savings could be found over time because the industry would be less saddled with the financial costs of the uninsured, especially since their conditions would be more likely to be treated sooner, the Chronicle reports.

The AmeriCare has thus far been endorsed by the ALF-CIO, Consumers Union and the American Pediatrics Association.