According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, around one in three retirees age 65 and older rely on employer-sponsored plans to supplement Medicare, and approximately six in 10 people age 55 to 64 rely on employer plans as their primary coverage. A problem Americans face is that much like pension plans have gone by the wayside in exchange for cheaper retirement plans, employers in recent years have been trimming employer provided health coverage from their budgets.
The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Web site healthreform.gov asserts that approximately 2.9 million people in Alabama obtain health coverage through their job. Unfortunately, the number of Alabamians with employer coverage is shrinking (down to 63 percent for 2007). Reports indicate that only 48 percent of small businesses offered health coverage in 2006. So where do Alabamians turn for coverage?
As the president stated in his recent speech to Congress the people of Alabama have limited choices. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama constitutes more than 80 percent of the health insurance market share in Alabama — probably not exactly Adam Smith’s idea of ample consumer-choice in the market place.
One idea gaining attention is a co-op. A cooperative is a voluntary contractual organization of people who have a mutual interest in providing themselves needed services on a nonprofit basis. For example, the Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative serves nearly 600,000 people. It has salaried doctors who see patients and the focus is preventative care. There is very minimal competition in Alabama so I am curious whether the citizens of our state would fare any better with such an option.
Opponents of the president’s plan argue that health reform is too expensive. Health care costs have doubled during the last decade so the thought of even more spending is worrisome unless Congress can come up with something better than a temporary patch.
Proponents say reform would save families money because uninsured patient costs must be absorbed, often in the form of higher premiums for those who pay. Supporters point at the ability to compare health plans through a new insurance exchange, premium relief, greater preventative care, and the end of discrimination for pre-existing conditions as positive attributes of the president’s plan.
Statehealthfacts.org shows that in Alabama last year the employer-sponsored family health insurance premiums averaged $11,119 with employees picking up 29 percent of the cost ($3,265). Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to spend that much on a family vacation each year? Ah, to dream.