Monday, November 24, 2008

Health care: A scalpel, not a chainsaw

By Elliot Werk and John Rusche

The current global economic crisis is wreaking havoc across all sectors of the economy, but for most families and small businesses, health care remains the most persistent roadblock to real security. Before the housing crisis hit, medical bills forced more than half of all bankruptcies. Skyrocketing catastrophic care costs mean that most people are just one serious illness away from bankruptcy – even if they have health insurance. And with growing numbers of unemployed people unable to get insurance, the crisis will only worsen in the coming months and years.

Since change on the federal level may take years, what can the Idaho Legislature do in the current tight budget environment to help the middle-class and small businesses get the most affordable, accessible health care available in these tough times? Plenty.

To address Idahoans’ health care needs during this budget crunch, Idaho Democratic lawmakers will work with the Governor, state agencies and our colleagues to ensure that critical services are protected. Where cuts are needed, we will fight to ensure that a scalpel, not a chain saw, is used. We will also employ innovative ideas to maximize the efficiency of state health care funding. Here are some examples:

Protect State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP): With an 80 percent match of federal dollars (Idaho gets $80 federal dollars for every $20 we invest) SCHIP is a no-brainer. This program should be used to help workers at small businesses, and even governmental agencies, provide health insurance for their children. Idaho must have the vision to join other states – including neighboring Washington – in efficiently using our federal funds to help businesses and organizations make sure that their employees’ children have adequate health care coverage.

Control costs and increase access with buying pools: Pooling for buying power and to spread the cost of catastrophic losses makes sense. The Idaho Legislature must finally pass a bill to set up a user funded prescription medication buying pool. Such pools, when combined with pools in other states, can lower prescription drug costs by up to 40 percent - at no added cost to the state! In addition, insurance pools can be used to help Idahoans spread the cost of catastrophic health expenses as widely as possible. We must do what we can, where we can, to help families and businesses maximize their health-care coverage at the lowest possible cost. Insurance works best when it shares costs over a broad pool of people.

Boost small business: To grow our state’s economy, Idaho needs to help its small businesses offer excellent benefits to prospective employees. Small businesses compete with large corporations to attract highly qualified employees. The legislature must find innovative ways to enhance small businesses’ buying power so they can lead the way out of our current financial difficulties and set Idaho on the road to prosperity.

Hard times demand creative solutions. We owe it to middle-class Idaho families and small businesses to protect necessary services and do whatever we can to expand health-care efficiency, access and affordability. Democrats will be there every step of the way advocating for innovative and effective policies to protect the middle class and small business.

State Senator Elliot Werk of Boise and State Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston are members of their respective chambers’ Health & Welfare committees in the Idaho Legislature, as well as the legislature’s Health Care Task Force.