U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has introduced legislation called the Making Health Care More Affordable Act he said is designed to improve the access to quality, affordable healthcare for Americans while empowering them to take more control over their healthcare decisions. His opponent in the election, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, has dismissed the legislation as “an election year gimmick” that doesn’t contain estimates on what the policies would cost or potential savings.
Wicker said it is a major problem that 47 million people in America, including 500,000 people in Mississippi, don’t have health insurance.
“When that happens and they need healthcare, a lot of times they going to the emergency room,” Wicker said. “The emergency room is going to see them. What we are seeing in our society is passing that cost of healthcare on to those who are insured. It is vitally important that we get as many Americans and as many Mississippians covered with good insurance in the private sector that is affordable and helps bring down the cost of healthcare, and avoids this idea of nationally socialized healthcare that they have in Canada, Europe and England.”
Wicker proposes changing the tax code to give people more incentives to buy health insurance. He proposes a Health Insurance Tax Credit of $2,500 for individuals and $6,000 for a family of four in order to purchase health insurance. Other proposals include: expansion of health savings accounts (HSAs) that would double the annual HSA contribution limits and allow Medicare beneficiaries and veterans to own HSAs; small business health plans that would allow small businesses to band together to purchase health insurance; and, provisions to allow purchase of healthcare insurance across state lines.
“In addition to maintaining their current choices, this would give consumers access to healthcare benefits and services in any of the 50 states,” Wicker said. “If a policy in Arkansas is a better policy, I should be able to buy that health insurance policy and use it in Mississippi.”
Musgrove said allowing people to purchase insurance from anywhere in the country would remove the protections provided by the state insurance regulatory system.
“This bill has an idea that Washington knows what to do more than state insurance regulators, and I disagree,” Musgrove said. “The cost and access of healthcare is of great concern. But the bill that Sen. Wicker has introduced is an election year gimmick. That has been acknowledged by the House sponsor of the parallel bill. It is not healthcare reform at all. It does not increase access, and there is no projections as to how much the bill would cost, nor how much it would save. “
Washington — wrong answer?
Musgrove said part of the problem in Washington today is that no one is looking at the cost of programs or how they will be paid for.
“The mentality in Washington is let’s just borrow the money from China, and that is the wrong approach,” Musgrove said. “On top of that, it is bizarre that the bill is doing away with state insurance protections. It seems like almost everyone who gets elected goes to Washington, and once they get there, Washington becomes the solution. I disagree.”
Wicker’s bill also has a healthcare tort reform provision to limit the number of medical malpractice lawsuits by placing a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages awarded in medical malpractice cases.
“This is a provision that the House has passed a number of times when Republicans had majority,” Wicker said. “It never passed the Senate. I hope we can have conversation about that in the context of the Presidential election debate. Medical liability is still a huge driver in terms of raising the cost of healthcare for Americans.”
Musgrove said medical malpractice in Mississippi has already been addressed when he called a special session while governor and the Legislature passed tort reform.
“We did it,” Musgrove said. “We needed to do medical malpractice reform, and we did it. I would much rather a state do that than someone from Washington telling us how it ought to be done.”
Musgrove said he opposes nationalized healthcare, and advocates a mixed system of private and public involvement to cut and restrain the cost.
“We need healthcare and not just a system to treat illness,” he said.
Musgrove said the American Medical Association (AMA) has come up with a plan to improve the healthcare system by increasing access, reducing costs and making healthcare available in rural areas. Musgrove said when advocating healthcare reforms, he thinks it is important to talk to doctors, pharmacists, hospital administrators and other healthcare professionals
“We would do a lot better by throwing out all the Washington lobbyists and sitting down and talking to real doctors, real hospital administrators and other people out on the front lines providing healthcare every day,” Musgrove said. “We need senators and congressmen who are going to listen to Mississippians, not the Washington lobbyists.”
Ron Aldridge, state director of the Mississippi chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB/MS), said it is clear from Wicker’s bill that he understands the current healthcare system is not working for small business and is taking a comprehensive approach to solve it with many of the small business needs and concerns directly addressed.
“The cost of healthcare has reached unmanageable proportions for many Americans, especially small business,” Aldridge said. “Rising premiums and limited coverage options have made healthcare costs the consistent and growing number one issue for small business over the last two decades. Right now in Mississippi, small business owners and their employees have very few choices for health insurance. Sen. Wicker’s bill is a significant step to give us the choices we need to solve our own problems.”
Aldridge said of the 47 million uninsured in America, 27 million are small business owners, their employees and dependents who shoulder the disproportionate burden of a broken healthcare system.
“Healthcare premiums have increased 129% over the last eight years,” Aldridge said. “Every year, we see average premium increases outpace wages and inflation. Any reform must recognize the unique problems facing small business. Never has it been clearer that the time to enact comprehensive health insurance reform is now, and that’s what much of Sen. Wicker’s legislation attempts to do.”
Aldridge was particularly in favor of the portion of the legislation designed to give small business owners the same tax breaks, coverage or pooling options as large businesses and labor unions. He said as a result, small businesses pay on average nearly 20% more for the same healthcare benefits.
“NFIB supports policy reforms to balance the competing goals of access to quality care, affordability, predictability and consumer choice,” Aldridge said.
“Sen. Wicker’s bill is right on target if we truly want to provide coverage for all while protecting our economy. The key provisions directly address small business’ biggest concern — the cost of health insurance. Reduce costs, and we can increase coverage.
“To do that, his legislation increases competition by breaking down the barriers that exist to selling insurance to small businesses across state lines and thereby addressing may costly state mandate issues, and by allowing them to band together across state lines for better rates and less administrative costs.”
Aldridge also favors providing tax credits and expansion of HSAs.
“Another significant provision addressing affordability is his expansion of HSAs,” Aldridge said. “The more small businesses and individuals use this current savings approach with tax advantages, the more they will save on their premiums with higher deductible policies.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.