Editorial: Health care versus the deficit and war

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The number is stunning. Private health insurance premiums logged a third consecutive year of double-digit increases in 2003, rising 13.9 percent, according to the 2003 Annual Employer Health Benefits Survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The increase is the largest since 1990.

Kaiser says workers will pay more in monthly premiums and co-payments for prescription drugs, hospital and physician office visits and diagnostics. High-deductible health plans will cause a larger number of employees to pay hundreds of dollars upfront for their medical care.

For instance, more than two in five workers face a new deductible each time they are admitted to the hospital, the Kaiser survey found. Deductibles and co-payments average about $200 per admission.

Over the past three years, the amount of the premium employees pay for family coverage has increased almost 50 percent, from $1,619 to $2,412. The typical family health insurance policy now costs $9,068, with employers on average paying 73 percent and employees paying 27 percent.

There is no current legislation on the table that makes attempts to heal this very sick health care system. An overhaul that would provide basic health care to all Americans isn't being discussed anymore. The president's vast tax cut package, the cost of post-9/11 anti-terrorism efforts, and the price of the war in Iraq have left us with an unimaginable deficit that cannot be repaid in our lifetimes. Where's the money for a health care plan?

Meanwhile, as seniors continue to wait for a drug benefit in Medicare, they are experiencing drug prices that, year after year, increase well in excess of the rate of inflation. From January 2002 to January 2003, the increase was nearly three-and-a-half times the rate of inflation. For seniors on fixed incomes with no drug coverage, increases at that level make it impossible to continue purchasing the medications they need. For low-income seniors, rising drug prices too often mean that necessary medications go unfilled. The result: greater emergency room and hospital use and higher overall costs to the health care system.

The rise in the price of drugs most frequently used by seniors from January 2002 to January 2003 highlights, for yet another year, the need for a prescription drug benefit in Medicare. The stark difference in prices among the top 50 drugs also points to the need for strong measures to ensure that consumers have timely access to generic drugs. With expanded coverage and access to generics, broader strategies for price moderation must also be considered. Without moderation in drug prices, employers, governments, and other health care payers will cut back on coverage and pass costs on to consumers -- costs that consumers will not be able to bear.

Two prescription drug benefit pacakages have been debated in Congress, but no legislation has been forthcoming. How the government could possibly pay for such a plan when it is already dropping or cutting Medicare coverages in many areas, is beyond us. But we suppose that if the Bush administration thinks we can afford to spend $84 billion in Iraq over the next year, what's a few billion more for helping seniors pay for their prescriptions?

-- GWD

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: