LaborTalk for March 4, 2011

New Health Law Is Riddled With Major Headaches;
States ‘Opt-Out Rights’ Will Add to the Confusion

By Harry Kelber

It is difficult to recall any federal law that has provoked such controversy, opposition, partisanship and angry debate as the “Affordable Health Care Act for Americans,” while 46.3 million uninsured people wait in the shadows, not knowing how many of them will receive health-care coverage when 2014 arrives.

The legislation, approved by Congress in March 2010, was considered President Obama’s great achievement until it came under attack, not only from Republicans, but independents who objected to several provisions, particularly the “mandate” clause, that would force people to pay cash penalties if they did not have health insurance by 2014.

This requirement would obviously impact heavily on poor families. After 2014, fines for lack of insurance coverage could run to $95 per person up to a maximum of three times that amount ($285) for families. It would also provide a gravy train of customers for the insurance industry.

President Obama told a meeting of the nation’s governors that he proposed to amend the health-care laws that would allow states to “opt-out” of provisions of the health-care law in 2014, instead of three years later. It was supposed to be a good-will gesture to Republicans, but it was not well received. “It sounds good, but provides very, very little actual help,” said Gov. Haley Barbour, a Mississippi Republican, of the Obama proposal.

Faced with budget deficits amounting to billions of dollars, governors, both Republicans and some Democrats, will allow their state legislatures to slash programs that help the working poor, sick and elderly, who have almost no political leverage to defend themselves.

States Shut Programs That Provide Subsidized Health-Care

A case in point: In Pennsylvania, 41,467 people who had been covered by adultBasic, a state-subsidized insurance program for the working poor, was shut down Monday by Republican governor Tom Corbett, who was elected last November.

Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, recently removed 17,500 adults from that same subsidized program. And in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, proposes to remove up to 250,000 childless adults who have been insured by her state’s Medicaid program in a10-year agreement with the federal government. Governors from other states are likely to take a series of actions to slim down Medicaid and I reduce its exorbitant costs .

Medicare and Medicaid, the mammoth federal health-care agencies, are regarded as a welcome haven for working people who have reached the retirement age. But the operating costs of the two agencies keep rising substantially, and they have become an enticing target for slashing billions -cf dollars from the federal deficit.

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Both major political parties are keeping quiet about a perplexing problem that will haunt them by 2014 and beyond: Which of the 46.3 million uninsured workers will get health-care coverage, when the original health law provides coverage for, at most, 32 million. How will the lucky recipients be selected, and what happens to the remaining uninsured?

I think the best solution to the health-care problem is to set up a universal Medical program, somewhat similar to the 75-year-old government Social Security program. If we can finance two wars for 10 years, I think we can raise the funds to keep Americans healthy.—Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on March 8, 2011 and on our two web sites and on