Help in Catastrophic Illness

Protection for all Americans against the devastating cost of catastrophic illness is now under consideration by President Reagan. That welcome word has come from Dr. Otis R. Bowen, the secretary of health and human services, in testimony before a House subcommittee.

Reagan announced in his State of the Union address a study by Bowen to provide recommendations by the end of the year "on how the private sector and government can work together to address the problems of affordable insurance for those whose life savings would otherwise be threatened when catastrophic illness strikes."

That was thought to address the problems of older Americans, in itself a significant step forward. One of the most conspicuous shortcomings of Medicare, the national health insurance for those 65 and older, is the absence of provision for long-term hospitalization and long-term nursing-home care. Thousands of older Americans have been forced to exhaust their savings on these costly services, becoming eligible for help only when reduced to the low-income status required by Medicaid--called Medi-Cal in California.

Now Bowen has confirmed that the President meant the study to look at protection for everyone against the economic ruin implicit in long-term illness. In his congressional testimony, Bowen said that the study will cover Medicare, including both hospital and nursing-home care, and also insurance to cover the cost of long-term illnesses affecting other ages, including the enormous costs often associated with the care of babies born prematurely. A spokesman for Bowen said later that the secretary wanted to emphasize that the cost of catastrophic illness "in its broadest implication can be a problem affecting the very youngest to the very oldest."

The spokesman added, "I think the feeling is that the President wants a broad look at it."

Reagan has given support to catastrophic-illness protection for many years, proposing state-level programs when he was governor of California. His renewal of that concern sets the stage for a remarkable contribution to the security of all Americans. Only through universal programs that cover all persons can effective and affordable insurance protection be devised and implemented.

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