While the United States spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care—$7,129 per capita—47 million Americans have no health care insurance. In the country's mostly employer-based benefit system, companies either don't offer health insurance or pass escalating premium costs on to employees. The lack of national progress toward dealing with health insurance issues has led several states, such as Massachusetts and California, to launch initiatives for their own residents.
In New York state, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried introduced a bill to create a commission which would explore various state-based options for universal coverage. Will state leaders go back to the drawing board this year, and what direction will they take regarding health care for their constituents?
Issues and options related to the present system of health insurance will be explored during a wide-ranging forum at the University of Rochester on Saturday, March 3. A panel of experts representing medical, economic, and government perspectives will give talks during the program, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Gowen Room in Wilson Commons on the University's River Campus. Admission to the event is free and open to the public.
"Health insurance issues have an enormous impact on ordinary people and employers and must be addressed," said Theodore Brown, professor of history and of community and preventive medicine. Brown conducts research in the history of medicine and health policy and is one of the organizers of the forum. "There are economic and moral arguments for the availability of health care to all, and health insurance and accessibility problems should be discussed from all possible vantage points."
Participating in the panel discussion are:
- Robert E. Gibbons, interim president and CEO of the Massachusetts Hospital Association. He previously was vice president of Delaney Associates, Inc., a Boston legislative advocacy group, and served as assistant secretary of public safety, legislative director for Governor Michael Dukakis.
- Joseph Morelle, state assemblyman. Morelle has served in the Assembly since 1990 and sits on the higher education, local governments, and economic development, job creation, commerce, and industry committees. He is also founder and president of MMI Technologies, a software development firm.
- Charles E. Phelps, University of Rochester provost. Phelps also is professor of political science, economics, and community and preventive medicine and has studied economic aspects of the health care system for more than three decades. He was elected in 1991 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and to the National Bureau for Economic Research. Before coming to Rochester in 1984, he was a senior economist at the RAND Corporation.
- Paul Sorum, professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Albany Medical College. Sorum is chair of the Capital District chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. He conducts research with psychologists in France and in the United States on health-related decision-making and is also a primary care physician.
The Massachusetts health plan requires that every citizen have health insurance. Uninsured people earning less than the federal poverty level threshold would be assisted in purchasing subsidized policies. Companies with 11 or more employees would be required to help pay for health insurance, up to $295 a year per worker. The cost estimates for the program's monthly premiums are now projected to be almost twice as expensive as originally predicted.
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's recently announced plan includes a requirement that employers with 10 or more workers buy insurance for their workers or pay a fee of four per cent of their payroll into a program to cover the uninsured.
The local health insurance symposium is sponsored by the American Medical Students Association and the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University's Medical Center; the Charles Drew Pre-Health Society and the Health and Society Program in the University's College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering; and by the community-based Interfaith Health Care Coalition. For more information, contact (516) 242-2863 or (585) 275-2051.