Voters weigh candidates’ health plans

Marketplace Staff Oct 31, 2008

Voters weigh candidates’ health plans

Marketplace Staff Oct 31, 2008


Tess Vigeland: The sickness afflicting the nation’s economy is apparently pushing more people to forgo health care.

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family foundation showed the number of people putting off necessary medical care is up from 29 percent in April to 36 percent this month. Other surveys show elective surgeries are down. So are the number of prescriptions being filled. All are seen as side effects of the growing ranks of unemployed people and a jump in out-of-pocket costs.

Danielle Karson profiles one American whose medical condition has left her struggling with a stack of doctors’ bills.

Danielle Karson: On August 9th, 2001, Emmetri Beane’s life changed forever. That day, the 42-year-old lawyer suffered a burst brain aneurysm. She’s had two strokes since and has epileptic seizures.

Emmetri lives in Bealton, Virginia, with her 12-year-old daughter. It’s a picturesque, rural part of the state, but it’s been anything but serene for Emmetri.

Emmetri Beane: I’m just asking that I can go to a hospital without worrying, “How much is this going to cost me?” I would like to get new glasses. Is that like a lot to ask? Every time I get an MRI I’m laying there thinking, “Oh my God, how much is this costing?” But I have to have that MRI in order to live.

Emmetri lives on less than $2,200 a month in Social Security disability payments. She stretches that to cover her rent, utilities and groceries. That money also covers her Medicare insurance premiums. But her insurance doesn’t cover eyeglasses or dental care. She hasn’t seen a dentist in four years. And…

Beane: I was on the newest medications but they weren’t covered and so I’m not on those for my seizures anymore.

A recent poll finds most Americans share Emmetri’s frustrations about their health insurance.

Senator McCain’s plan would scrap the current system where most people are covered through their jobs. Instead, they would shop around for a health plan. McCain’s plan would let families take $5,000 off their federal tax bill and use it to buy insurance. That way millions more could afford health insurance for the first time.

Jonathan Oberlander is a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City.

Jonathan Oberlander: It is a refundable tax credit rather than a deduction, so a refundable tax credit will give people money, even those who don’t pay any taxes.

But for Emmetri to sign up she would have to drop Medicare and she says that $5,000 federal check doesn’t impress her.

Beane: I know what it costs to have health insurance every year, I know what it costs just for me on Medicare and I don’t believe that those tax credits are going to cover it.

Senator Obama’s plan would let people keep their employer insurance. The uninsured could buy coverage through a government-sponsored program.

Sarah Rosenbaum is a health policy analyst with George Washington University’s School of Public Health. She says once you create a group market for the uninsured, it could be expanded to include the underinsured like Emmetri. She thinks McCain’s plan would be too risky.

Sarah Rosenbaum: This is the kind of person the individual market runs away from. No one would sell a product to her. She might end up in a high-risk pool somewhere and the premiums would be so high, she’d be no better off than she is today. She couldn’t possibly afford it.

Emmetri says her 18-year-old daughter, who’s in college, is covered through her father’s plan. But when she thinks of her 12 year old, she leans towards Obama’s plan.

Beane: Senator Obama’s plan talked about preventive health care and when I think about a health care plan, it’s not just for me; it’s also for my daughter. And one of the things that helps me is for her to be healthy. That relieves a lot of stress when I’m not worrying about how she’s doing.

Both candidates support preventive care and electronic record keeping to contain costs. Analysts say such initiatives will help, but there’s little evidence they’ll save money in the short term.

Analyst Jonathan Oberlander:

Oberlander: This type of cost control is what I like to call faith-based cost control, because it is based more on faith than evidence.

Until a new administration fleshes out the details, it’s hard to say whether either plan can really deliver, especially on voters’ biggest worry: punching a hole in ballooning health insurance premiums.

In Washington, I’m Danielle Karson for Marketplace Money.

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