Two bills introduced in the House last week take market-driven approaches to reducing the number of Americans lacking health insurance, now at 42.6 million. One would create refundable tax credits for buying health coverage, while the other would lift participation restrictions on medical savings accounts.
Meanwhile, three Roman Catholic groups, including the Catholic Health Association, have written to lawmakers asking that a minimum of $132 billion of the federal budget surplus over 10 years be committed to helping the uninsured. Catholic Charities USA and the United States Catholic Conference said President Bush pledged that amount during his campaign.
Lawmakers continue to debate whether market-driven reforms, government programs or a combination will be most effective in reducing the number of uninsured.
At a House Ways and means health subcommittee hearing on the uninsured last week, Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) said, "I believe expanding existing public programs would bring the biggest bang for the taxpayer's buck."
He added: "Even carefully constructed tax code proposals will fail to achieve the goals of increased coverage in the absence of significant financial resources and stringent government regulation."
House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas) and Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.) have introduced what they call the "fair care" plan, which would provide tax credits of $1,000 per uninsured individual and $3,000 per family for buying healthcare coverage.
The plan also would create state-run health insurance "safety nets" to provide coverage for high-risk individuals.
Lipinski and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Thomas (R-Calif.) teamed up on the second bill, which would eliminate a cap of 750,000 participants in a 5-year-old federal pilot program for medical savings accounts. The bill also would expand eligibility for MSAs.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, 32% of MSA purchasers previously were uninsured, Lipinski said.
The proposed legislation runs counter to reports that Bush's budget request will seek to reduce funding for the uninsured. A New York Times article last week said HHS documents show that programs providing "health access for the uninsured" will be cut by 86%, to $20 million from $140 million in the current fiscal year.