Governor Rendell speaks on health care

As the total number of uninsured adults in Pennsylvania hits 767,000, with a total of 108,835 in Allegheny County alone, Governor Edward Rendell arrived in Pittsburgh just in time to discuss health insurance policies at a town hall meeting last Tuesday.

The meeting was held in the Kauffman Auditorium at Hill House Association. Rendell discussed the soaring prices of health insurance, which often discourage individuals from purchasing and businesses from providing basic health care. Rendell encouraged fellow Pennsylvanians to support Cover All Pennsylvanians (CAP), his proposal to the federal government that provides health insurance to every Pennsylvania resident who needs it.

“Employees and small businesses are unable to keep up with health care inflation, which is resulting in more and more uninsured individuals,” Rendell said.

Moreover, he added, part-time employees do not receive health insurance. The CAP program will ensure that each individual citizen can buy health insurance at a limited price, regardless of his or her employer, wages, or hours worked.

“We assessed that if this situation persists for the next seven years, health insurance will disappear in the state of Pennsylvania,” Rendell said.

Director of Student Health Services Anita Barkin supported Rendell’s proposal but was unsure how the program, if implemented, would affect Carnegie Mellon students.

“In principle, I agree with the governor’s position that all Pennsylvanians should have access to health care providers and that we need to have a program that better addresses issues of chronic diseases and health equity issues. Whether this will affect the health care insurance status of Carnegie Mellon students depends on a number of aspects of the proposal,” she said. Barkin also had a number of concerns about the program.

“Firstly, the current student insurance plan through Highmark is benefit-rich and low-cost when compared to other plans on the market. I’m not sure a student can do better with an individual plan through a private insurer given that usually group plans can command a lower price with better benefits. Also, would out-of-state students even be considered eligible to purchase through the CAP program?” Barkin said.

Pittsburgh was Rendell’s second of nine stops on a statewide bus tour to boost awareness of health care inflation faced by the state and gain support for his proposal, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported Oct. 4.

Rendell was accompanied by State Senator Jay Costa, State Representative Mike Surla, and Director of the Governor’s Office of Health Care Reform Rosemary Greco.

“Family health insurance premiums have increased by 75.6 percent in the last seven years, at the rate of more than 10 percent a year,” Rendell said. During this period of time, he added, inflation increased by 17 percent, while median wages increased by 13.3 percent. Consequently, health insurance costs are outstripping profits reaped by businesses and wages earned by employees.

Rendell remained confident that the CAP program would be able to provide for Pennsylvania’s most pressing health care needs.

“Unless something happens on the federal front, we can insure at least all children by 2009,” said Rendell.

He pointed out that other states, such as Massachusetts and California, are already implementing policies to ensure the health and well-being of their populace.

The legislation will also require that each hospital in Pennsylvania has an emergency section, along with a 24/7 non-emergency section. Rendell also addressed the need for improvements in the quality of health care, such as lowering the risks of hospital-acquired infections.

“Eighty percent of the costs incurred at hospitals are a result of patients affected by chronic diseases, mostly hospital-acquired infections. In 2005, a total of 2000 people were reported dead due to hospital-acquired infections. In addition to the cost of lives, the hospital incurred a cost of $3.5 billion on the system,” said Rendell.

The CAP health care package covers long-term living services for elderly or disabled citizens and the costs of prescription drugs.

Rendell said that, if sanctioned, his proposal will cause a tax raise in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, this tax will be imposed on health-deteriorating products such as tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and alcohol. A tax of 5 percent will be imposed on businesses that do not provide health care to their full-time or part-time employers.

“Spending a small amount of money up front, we will save suffering patients in the future,” said Rendell.

With regard to university health care insurance policies, the governor said that every university in Pennsylvania will be encouraged to require students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs to purchase CAP. Also, Rendell plans to propose legislation which permits parents to be their child’s legal guardians until their children reach the age of 30 to enable them to provide continued affordable health care for their children. Self-employed individuals can buy CAP independently at a cost of $280 for themselves and their families. However, singles are charged $500 to $600.

The final effect of Rendell’s program at Carnegie Mellon and elsewhere will depend on approval from the federal government.