A group of U.S. hospitals offered a plan Thursday to cover the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance, including mandatory coverage for all and subsidies for the working poor.
The proposal by the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents about 20% of the industry, is the latest in a flurry of proposed schemes to solve the growing problem of the uninsured. Since 2000, about 6 million people in the United States have lost their insurance.
The hospital group’s plan, estimated to increase federal spending by $115 billion, would build on the employer-based health system under which most Americans already get coverage. It would provide subsidies for individuals to buy insurance from their employer if they cannot afford it or to buy tax-subsidized coverage in the open market.
Currently, individuals buying coverage in the open market don’t receive the same tax advantages as employers.
Under the hospital group’s plan, individuals would be required to sign up for a health insurance plan. If they don’t, the government would do it for them and those individuals would be taxed to pay for the insurance premiums. The plan also encourages states to automatically enroll more people in public health programs such as Medicaid.
In surveys, Americans often list health insurance as a top domestic policy concern. U.S. businesses and hospitals also are worried about the issue because people without coverage flock to emergency rooms, driving up healthcare costs.
Several insurance proposals, including those from private insurers and lawmakers, are intended to push the 2008 presidential candidates to take up the issue, analysts said.
“The whole purpose is to capture people’s imagination and to make this a major campaign issue,” said Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change. “I would expect all major candidates seeking the nomination to have outlined proposals to expand health insurance coverage.”
Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said the plan was intended to add to the national discussion.
Ginsburg said mandatory coverage had become more acceptable after the enactment of Massachusetts’ uninsured plan, which includes such a provision.