Fit for the Road: Reforming the mindset?

Todd Dills | February 01, 2010

Reforming the mindset?

Driver sees opposition to health-care reform a matter of misunderstanding issues

The weekend of Christmas last year, a health-care reform bill made its way through the Senate, but what that would mean for the eventual character of any final health-care and -insurance reform bill remained unclear.

The Senate bill did not include a full government-run option for health insurance in the insurance purchasing exchanges it enables, which was a disappointment to Illinois-based bulk tank owner-operator Ray Lawson, leased to Superior Carriers. Lawson, now in his early 50s, has seen his health insurance premium go from a monthly $350 some 10 years ago to more than $900 today.

That rate of cost increase has been matched by only one other cost relevant to his business: fuel. And by some estimates the rate of increase for medical and insurance expenses nationwide has been the greater.

“All those years,” Lawson says, “I’ve only had one major thing done — my appendix was taken out five years ago. It cost me $7,000 out of pocket on a total $23,000 bill. All the visits and follow-up care I had to pay 100 percent.” Since then, he adds, medical costs and his insurance coverage has changed to the point that “if I had the appendix operation today I couldn’t afford to get it done.”

Opinion in the driver community was not on track with Lawson’s feelings about the need for the particular variety of reform being proposed. In December, 70 percent of respondents to an eTrucker.com poll indicated they were opposed to congressional efforts.

Instead of a public option, the Senate version included opportunity for insurers to offer a nationally regulated private plan to compete in the otherwise state-regulated health-insurance industry, as well as boosted funds for community health centers. Experts and other commentators agreed that, at the least, the final bill would look more like the Senate’s than the House’s.

Lawson speculated that the driver community’s opposition to reform legislation could be seen as a function of company drivers’ lack of understanding of the cost pressure the current health-insurance and -care situation puts on independent owner-operators and trucking businesses of all sizes.

While company drivers’ paycheck-deducted contributions to their companies’ health-insurance plans, such as they exist, have undoubtedly risen in recent years with other American workers’, Lawson says, “I think a lot of workers don’t understand. Nothing’s free. If a corporation is paying $1,000 a month for an employee’s insurance, that’s $1,000 they don’t have for raises or just to keep the doors open. It does affect everyone. That’s why I have some kind of a vested interest in a public option in this health-care thing. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of competition. I’m thinking that if they get something passed halfway decent, it’ll help all small businesses.”

 

TN0210PG030chartsDo you support Washington’s efforts to reform health care/insurance?

Unconditional driver support for the U.S. Congress’ efforts to pass reform legislation of whatever variety had dwindled slightly by the close of 2009 as those efforts neared fruition. Concern for the potential tax increase on individual and business income that reform represented seemed to drive the decision. The Senate’s version of the bill includes an increase of 0.5 percent in the Medicare payroll tax for individuals making more than $200,000 a year as well as other taxes on particular businesses. How states could respond to demands on their Medicaid programs for low-income people, expanded in some cases via mandates in the bill, remained unclear, but some were calling the program’s expansion an “unfunded mandate” that could result in higher taxes in some form or other.

 

With Mandates Come Fines and Subsidies

Fines for not offering health insurance in the Senate’s version of the health-care bill could be levied on employers of more than 50 people to the tune of as much as $750 per worker. Individuals, likewise, in smaller companies could face annual fines of $750 in the Senate bill by 2016 if they don’t purchase insurance (the House version stipulates a penalty of 2.5 percent of total income). The Senate bill ups Medicaid eligibility to a cutoff point of 133 percent of the poverty level (150 percent in the House bill) for those not eligible for Medicare, which in today’s terms would mean the under-65s making less than $16,572 for individuals and $33,729 for a family of four ($18,690 and $38,040 in the House version).

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