SPOKANE, Wash. - The Senate Health Committee's approval
of a plan to require people to get health insurance - with government
subsidies to help pay for it - gave folks in Spokane plenty to talk
about last night. At a packed "Divided We Fail" public meeting,
doctors, patients and small-business owners compared stories and stress
levels about rising health care costs and dwindling coverage.
Ingrid McDonald, advocacy director with AARP Washington,
says her group is especially concerned about people ages 50 to 64, as
older workers are being laid off but are still years away from
qualifying for Medicare.
"Here in Washington, for example, insurance companies can charge people
in higher age brackets 3.75 times as much as they charge people in
lower age brackets. So as people become older, unless they're part of a
large employer plan, they find it increasingly difficult to find
The new bill still would allow insurance companies to charge older
people more for insurance, but limits the difference to no more than
twice what younger people are charged. AARP
says it can live with that. However, the vote was 13 to 10, strictly
along party lines. Republicans insist the proposal would raise costs by
requiring that people be insured.
Physician Glen Stream, Spokane, sits on the board of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
He wants to see a greater emphasis on keeping people healthy and
covering preventive care. He says an estimated 75 percent of medical
costs go to treating just a few chronic conditions, including asthma,
diabetes and depression.
"By having a more coordinated and proactive treatment strategy for
chronic illness, I hope we can save some of the costs involved in
delaying or having sub-optimal care."
The new bill, called the "Affordable Health Choices Act," would require
insurance companies to offer coverage no matter what a person's medical
history or past claims, and it also would require coverage of some
preventive care. Only the Democrats on the Senate committee voted for
it; Republicans called it "too expensive."
The "Divided We Fail" coalition partners are AARP, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).