Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What Gorilla?

One issue that is not getting much play in the current campaign is that of health care and insurance costs, yet this is one of those meat and potato issues closely aligned with the American public's view of the economy. I find the silence on this issue somewhat puzzling. Although it is not as sexy as the Foley scandal, or as explosive as the Iraq War, this particular cost is a clear concern for most Americans, as a recent poll made clear. From today's Los Angeles Times:

Frustration with the rising costs of health coverage surged sharply this year, helping to explain why many voters remain uneasy about the economy despite falling gasoline prices, low unemployment and a soaring stock market.

The annual Health Confidence Survey, released today by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute, found that more than half of those surveyed — 52% — were dissatisfied with health insurance costs, a sharp increase from 33% last year.

About 6 in 10 said costs of their health plan — such as premiums, deductibles and co-payments — had gone up in the last year. Of those who said their costs had risen, more than half said they were saving less as a result.

Retirement plans took a big hit, with 36% of those who reported higher costs over the last year saying they had reduced their contributions to 401(k) plans. Of that group, 28% said that because of health-related costs, they had trouble paying for such basic necessities as housing, heat and food.
[Emphasis added]

Employers who provide health insurance for their employees cut back on their contributions to that benefit as the costs soared, which meant higher copayments and deductibles, and lesser coverage for the employees. Many employers are simply not offering health insurance as a benefit, leaving the entire burden for health care costs on the individual.

Sooner or later, the whole issue will have to be addressed, and not just in bandaid fashion. Some states and municipalities are experimenting with a programs to provide a single-payor universal coverage, but the patchwork approach is not going to be of much value to the national economy. It's time Congress quit ignoring the problem. This gorilla is beginning to smell.


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