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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, June 8, 2006

New Report on Universal Health Care Coverage

According to a recent interim report of the Citizens' Health Care Working Group,  a 14-member committee representing consumers, the disabled, business and labor, and health care providers, Americans believe that "all Americans should have a set of health coverage benefits guaranteed by law." Those benefits should be "portable and independent of health status, working status, age (and) income."  The Citizens' Health Care Working Group was created by Congress in late 2003 and funded with $5.5 million.  Beginning in February of last year, the group traveled to 50 communities and heard from 23,000 people.  The Group's interim recommendations may be found here.  According to the Associated Press:

The committee describes its recommendations as a framework. The recommendations don't say who would pay for universal health coverage or how much it would cost. The concept of government-guaranteed coverage runs counter to the Bush administration's position that consumers should bear more responsibility for their initial medical expenses.

The group's findings will be officially presented to the president and Congress in the fall, but first comes 90 days of public comment. The president will submit to Congress his response, and then five congressional committees will hold hearings.

Some organizations are already suspicious of the Group's recommendations:

"It implies massive new funding sources, massive new laws would be needed," said Sarah Berk, executive director of Health Care America, an advocacy group that pushes free market approaches to health coverage. "We want universal access, but this report just pushes all the difficult problems onto somebody else's plate. It says government needs to do it all."

George Grob, the executive director of the Citizens' Health Care Working Group, said the group was not asked to say specifically how to get to universal coverage. However, the group did recommend that financing strategies be based on principles of fairness and shared responsibility. The strategies should draw on revenue streams such as enrollee contributions, income taxes, so-called "sin taxes" and payroll taxes, the report said.

"We're already paying for health care for everybody who gets it, including people who don't have health insurance coverage who are taken care of when they go to the hospital," Grob said.

[bm]

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