But that doesn't mean that the insured will have to swallow the costs, Kagen says. In fact, he insists that his legislation would actually drive down premiums for everyone, noting that a major reason they are so pricey is that hospitals and doctors charge the insured artificially inflated rates to cover the unpaid bills of the uninsured. There is "a hidden health care tax within every product and every service in America, because of today's discriminatory health care system," he says.
Many, from Kagen to insurance groups, say that will change when everyone has access to coverage. America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a Washington, D.C.-based insurance trade group, has proposed another way to make sure that individuals with preexisting conditions are eligible for reasonable rates. Under its plan, insurers would voluntarily commit to offer those who did not qualify for standard insurance policies the option of buying one at a rate no more than one and a half times the price of traditional packages.
The federal government would still have to fork over funds for those unable to come up with the cost of a premium. But AHIP's Mohit Ghose says universal health coverage would save money in the long run. He says AHIP estimates that it currently costs the government and the insured roughly $50 billion annually to make up for the deficits the uninsured. In contrast, he says, it would cost around $30 billion a year—a whopping $20 billion savings—to cover all Americans under its package.
Ghose says that AHIP does not support Kagen's bill, because it has its own proposal it would like to see enacted. But, he says, the group backs the emergence of ideas "so we can dissect them and work together to get more Americans covered."
Kagen's measure has 17 co-sponsors (all Democrats) and, in addition to Families USA, enjoys the backing of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He acknowledges that it doesn't have a shot at becoming law under the Bush administration, but says he'll boost efforts for passage once the new president takes office in January. Kagen says he hopes that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton—whoever nabs the Democratic nod—will be that person, noting that they both have "excellent" health care proposals.
In the meantime, he says, "I hope to be the doctor in the House who helps determine what it is that people need"—at least on the health care front.