Will the push for universal health-care gain momentum in the
aftermath of September 11, with tens of thousands of family members grieving
and trying to replace lost income and health benefits? After all, a national
health plan nearly passed into law for the first time during the
post-Depression New Deal years of FDR, and Blue Cross Blue Shield was initiated
as a nonprofit in Rhode Island by state law in 1939. Medicare was finally
created in the Vietnam era, with Medicaid coming shortly thereafter.
Matthew Penfield, a Providence-based organizer for the Coalition for Consumer
Justice (CCJ), believes public anxiety about the post-September 11 world
extends to health-care. "A lot more folks are recognizing the insecurity of
quality health-care," he says. Penfield cites double-digit increases in
insurance premiums and similar increases expected for the future. Given the
huge hit taken by the insurance sector, it's reasonable to assume that health
insurance costs could rise even more.
Even so, says Harvard Medical School's Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, founder of
Physicians for a National Health Plan, a universal health insurance plan is
unlikely to move forward. Congress is focusing on the war and little else,
Woolhandler says. And she's right -- domestic policy priorities have been
reordered and health-care has been put on the back burner.
Meanwhile, the children and spouses of September 11 victims often earn too
much to qualify for Medicare and are decades from Medicare eligibility, yet
they can't necessarily afford the monthly premiums of $400 to $1000 for
self-insurance. Some World Trade Center firms, like Cantor Fitzgerald, whose
more than 700 missing employees left more than 1500 children, are promising 10
years of health insurance coverage at the same level as before the attacks,
says spokesman Jeff Siegel.
Of course, charitable help has been coming by the billions. The airline
bailout bill, or S1450 -- which protects airlines from lawsuits by giving
$100,000 to each victim's families in exchange for not suing United or American
Airlines -- doesn't include any provision of health insurance, however, and
some of these families may be scrambling once the 36-month COBRA period
And although this could mean that thousands of additional people face
obstacles to health-care, it would just be just a small percentage of the 43
million Americans who lack health insurance.
Issue Date: November 23 - 29, 2001