It is true that no health care reform is better than bad reform. And to judge from the eulogies already being written (e.g., “Analysis: No easy Rx for health care’s hurdles,” from the Sacramento Bee and “Cost key issue for health care proposal,” from the Associated Press), it appears the likelihood of comprehensive reforms in California is increasingly unlikely.
For some, this is a relief because aspects of the reform package being negotiated in Sacramento are, well, bad. But no one should rejoice that the year of health care reform seems to be fizzling out. A series of articles on Monday in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Susan Brink shows why.
In one story, a Dana Point family of five goes without coverage because it’s “unaffordable” on their $70,000 annual income. As it turns out, focusing on this family was a questionable choice. As many of the reader comments point out, they apparently consider health care coverage less important than other, perhaps less critical, lifestyle choices. (The article also highlights the need for a good agent. The family claims coverage they’re looking for would cost them in excess of $900 per month, but a professional agent could probably find them acceptable coverage for roughly half that amount). So the story makes two points. The intended point is that there are families just beyond the cusp of qualifying for premium subsidies who are struggling to obtain care. Under either the Governor’s or the Democratic Leadership’s reform proposals, these families would qualify for state help. The inadvertent point is that there are families who make decisions that health care isn’t important to seek out even minimum coverage — until something goes wrong.
Another article in the group describes a single mother whose pay raise results in her child losing eligibility for Healthy Families. It shows the hardships families face when their priorities are in the right place, but nonetheless find themselves struggling to maintain health care coverage. Frighteningly, with re-authorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) stalled in a bitter dispute between Congress and the White House, even eligible children may be dropped from the program soon.
The point here is not that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Speaker Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate Pro Tem Don Perata should sign off on any plan just to get something passed. (Although it is clear the Administration and Congress need to resolve their dispute over SCHIP, and quickly). What it does underscore is the importance of getting the reforms right, even if it takes more time. After all, subsidizing premiums for families who struggle to afford coverage now won’t help much if reforms result in their premiums doubling. Yet based on the difference between what New Yorkers and Californians currently pay for health insurance that could very well happen if lawmakers aren’t careful. And it’s a reminder that while politics is closely entwined in the health care reform debate, in the end, it’s about people facing real problems and challenges. Anecdotes are a poor foundation for fashioning legislation, but they do help keep things in perspective.