For months, the Washington Basic Health Plan managers have wrestled with the question of how to remove eligible recipients from the state’s tax-subsidized health insurance plan. The state legislature cut the health plan’s 2009-11 budget by 43 percent or $255 million.
The reduction process the health-plan managers went through reminded one of the staple plots of movies: The lifeboat can hold only so many people. Who should be tossed into the sea and by what criteria?
The health plan considered and discarded several possible solutions — including a lottery — before coming up with this solution: Raise the prices to drive many thousands out of the market.
So, the working poor on the program will face an average increase of 70 percent in their premiums, part of a strategy to expel 30,000 to 40,000 people from the subsidized plan which covers only 100,000 participants. The program is available to anyone earning less than twice the federal poverty level, and there are 30,000 on the waiting list to get into the program.
The solution came on the same day that the state insurance commissioner held a news conference to note that the number of people in the state without health insurance climbed 21 percent in a year to 876,000.
Washington’s situation is undoubtedly shared by many other states throughout the country.
"For many people, there are no options," said Mike Kreidler, the insurance commissioner. "The only meaningful solution is health-care reform."
As Catholics we believe that health care involves the fundamental issues of human life and dignity, that decent health care is not a privilege but a basic human right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person.
Bishop William F. Murphy, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, made those points in a presentation to the Senate Finance Committee in May.
"The rising number of uninsured has always been a moral issue, but today it’s clearly an economic issue," Kreidler said.
He may have the answer there. Clearly it has been a moral issue for too long with nothing happening. It’s agreed that it’s a shame, there’s pity for those affected and nothing happens.
But in the United States, when a moral issue turns into an economic issue, well then, that’s when things get done.
Shouldn’t health care be as much a part of national security as defense — the government doing what the individual cannot do?
Generations ago, the United States moved a moral necessity — preserving the dignity of the aging and retired, the widows and orphans — into the economic area by establishing Social Security and taxing one and all to finance it.
No less can be required in this situation.
This is not a problem other nations haven’t faced and solved.
"The moral measure of any health care reform proposal is whether it offers affordable and accessible health care to all, beginning with those most in need," Bishop Murphy told the Senate Finance Committee. "This can be a matter of life or death, of dignity or deprivation."
And it is not one to be left unresolved any longer while state officials let higher health-care premiums do the dirty work of reducing the rolls and individuals are forced to make a choice between health care and food.
The poor are always with us. They cannot be dis-enrolled.
Stephen Kent is a retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.