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Health care plans may be too expensive

Tamara Keith Sep 15, 2009

Health care plans may be too expensive

Tamara Keith Sep 15, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: So have you ever had one of those bosses where the last person to talk to her usually wins the argument? Drives you crazy, right? There is something similar happening with the health care debate in Washington. We have been waiting for weeks for the Senate Finance Committee to stop talking and make up its mind. Chairman Max Baucus said today he hopes to share what they’ve come up with tomorrow. Informed opinion is that that bill is going to become the basis for much of the negotiations to come.

All five bills currently circulating in Congress would expand Medicaid for the poor. And they would provide subsidies to help low and middle income families buy coverage, if they aren’t insured at work. But premiums, as we all know, are only the beginning. There are co-pays and deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. And when you add it all up, health care might still be too expensive for too many.

From Washington, Marketplace’s Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH: Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about people who have insurance through their employer. We’re talking about people who are uninsured or buy their own insurance. Virtually everyone will be required to have coverage.

RON WYDEN: You could tell people they have to purchase health care, but you’d also better take steps to make sure it’s affordable.

Ron Wyden is a Democratic senator from Oregon and a member of the finance committee. He says under the latest plan he’s seen, even with assistance, a family of four earning $66,000 a year would still have to pay about 13 percent of their income in premiums.

WYDEN: You’re going to have to pay $8,500 a year for your premium. Then you’re going to have to pay more for your co-payments. You’re going to have a big deductible. You’re already walking on an economic tight rope.

And before long you’re talking about a real hardship. Peter Cunningham is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change.

PETER CUNNINGHAM: These reform proposals are not going to completely eliminate the financial pressures that families feel from health care, either their premiums or their out of pocket costs.

But Cunningham says millions of people will be better off than they are today. People like Steven Tatar and his family. He’s self employed, has two kids and a wife with diabetes.

STEVEN TATAR: Close to a third of our total annual income consumed by our health costs, largely premiums. And I’ve got to be honest. I don’t go to doctors, because I can’t afford it.

Linda Blumberg, an economist at the Urban Institute, says the family’s annual medical expenses could drop to around 15 percent of their income. But not much less. She says Congress is under pressure to keep the price of an overhaul under a trillion dollars.

LINDA BLUMBERG: The only way to pare that number back is by taking it out of either the benefits that are provided or the subsidies for the package you’re providing.

Because health care isn’t getting any cheaper.

In Washington, I’m Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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