No one denies that the creeping growth in the number of Americans without medical insurance is a major flaw in the healthcare system. An estimated 44 million people are uninsured; nearly one in six U.S. residents is medically indigent.
But tossing out numbers won't solve the problem. It's time for providers and policymakers to lay out options and pursue a strategy. Let's consider a few ideas:
* Use a big chunk of money recovered from legal settlements with tobacco companies to subsidize low-income workers who generally don't have medical insurance.
The total tobacco pot could exceed $200 billion, at least until the lawyers take their share. A number of states, including Alabama, Kansas and Nebraska, already have earmarked tobacco cash to expand healthcare coverage.
* Target key segments of the uninsured population, tailoring solutions to each group.
The recent effort to enroll more children in a federally subsidized insurance program is a good idea, for example, although the process has proved cumbersome.
Tax credits for small employers could prompt more of them to offer insurance to low-income workers.
* Provide full tax deductions for the self-employed and those without employer-sponsored coverage. Individuals and groups in those situations now can deduct 45% .
* The government and coalitions representing small employers should contract with managed-care plans and provider-based networks to coordinate the care of the newly insured.
* Insist that new programs not only cover catastrophic care but also primary and preventive services. We agree with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, however, that lawmakers must protect insurers and provider networks against costly coverage mandates, which could inadvertently aggravate the situation.
The country's continuing economic prosperity provides an opportunity to tackle the uninsured problem. But, frankly, the cause is not a political priority. Those who feel a direct impact from the uninsured must champion the cause. Healthcare providers are at the top of that list, and these five simple ideas offer a way for them to start.