Today, while reporting on a new study that found that nearly one-third of the 47 million Americans without health insurance suffer from chronic conditions, CNN implied that the “16 million people in this country with a chronic condition but no insurance to pay for medical care” could use Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) proposed tax credits or money saved in Health Care Savings Accounts to purchase health insurance with “tax-free dollars”:
You know, this problem has been around forever and lots of great minds have opined about what to do about it. The two candidates are no exception…Now senator McCain wants to do this more through the private sector. He wants to give tax breaks to people so that, if they have more money, because they’re not using it for taxes, they could use it to buy insurance and also help savings accounts so that people could help pay for medical expenses with tax-free dollars. It’ll be interesting to see which solution the voters like better.
But McCain’s solution doesn’t solve the problem. While McCain would give $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families to buy health insurance in the individual market place, most insurance companies won’t provide insurance to the so-called uninsurables or individuals who “have conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes.”
Secondly, as Health Care For America Now points out, health care savings accounts would not work for those with chronic conditions because such plans “by definition favor the wealthy and/or the healthy”:
For those that never go to the doctor, or who can afford the high out-of-pocket costs incurred when using health savings accounts (you need to pay $1,050 as an individual or $2,100 for a family before your insurance will cover the rest), health savings accounts are great….For the rest of us, however, health savings accounts don’t work. If we get sick and see the doctor often, we have to pay those huge costs often; that means we have to save a lot of money in that health savings account. For those on fixed incomes, or even those just barely scraping by (and that’s a lot of us in today’s economic climate), putting away even $4,000 in a health savings account is out of the question.
As CAPAF Senior Fellow Peter Harbage and Director of Health Policy Karen Davenport argue in a new report, until the uninsured are part of the health care system, there will be no way to get a handle on their health care spending. Thus, “policies aimed at achieving savings while also improving quality would be even more effective in improving overall health system performance if they were combined with a policy to extend affordable health insurance coverage to everyone in the United States.”
Unfortunately, rather than analyzing the effects of McCain’s plan on the uninsured, CNN regurgitated McCain talking points. Such vapid reporting will not help voters decide “which solution [they] like better.”
UPDATE: The New Health Dialogue adds:
The challenge of chronic disease is intricately related to the goals of sustainable health reform. Both will require a comprehensive approach—one that provides access to care for all Americans and ensures that such care is delivered in an integrated system where providers are paid for the quality, and not just the quantity of care.