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‘Gold-plated’ is in the eyes of the beholder

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TESS VIGELAND: Today, presidential hopeful Barack Obama said it’s time to end the “disappointing charade of debate on affordable health care coverage.” He says the government should provide it to every American within six years.

President Bush suggested tax breaks for coverage in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. But health care spending above what the government thinks is too much would be taxed.

Consumer advocate Jamie Court says that’s a raw deal for consumers who have no control over their insurance bills.

JAMIE COURT: Health insurers charge certain people higher premiums for all kinds of reasons. But not necessarily because they’re frequent users of coverage that President Bush calls “gold-plated.”

Premiums for firefighters, ski patrollers, policemen, paramedics and rescuers are higher because insurers charge more for riskier professions.

So should our nation’s heroes be taxed more for putting their lives in danger?

And what about people who aren’t in risky professions? Right now, 38 states allow insurers to charge older workers more. Their policies are certainly not gold-plated. The policyholders simply have gray hair.

Even a healthy, older Texan couple like President and Mrs. Bush would be hard-pressed to find an affordable policy in the Lone Star State because it permits age-based pricing.

And Texas, like most states, allows insurers to charge people more based on their medical condition.

A breast cancer survivor in Virginia reported the only policy her husband’s carpet cleaning business could find for her, after her illness cost $3,000 per month. The family had to move to New York, a state that doesn’t allow prices based on medical history.

Seventeen states do prohibit use of medical condition in determining a premium. But a dozen of those states allow insurers to charge more based on age, gender and occupation. And there’s no federal law limiting arbitrary and discriminatory pricing.

Government must force insurers to price their policies more fairly before it taxes people who are unfairly charged. Otherwise, taxing expensive health care policies essentially becomes a gray hair tax, a firefighting tax, a cancer tax.

Gold-plated is in the eye of the beholder. Right now, President Bush is a federal worker with an envious choice of affordable health plans from one of America’s largest purchasers.

Talk is cheap when you have choices most of us simply don’t.

VIGELAND: Jamie Court is president of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

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