Universal health fits with N.H. values
The founders of New Hampshire were religious people who understood the scripture’s call to aid the needy. They believed that government could be an instrument of God’s work and adopted laws to assist the poor even before New Hampshire became a state.The early laws sound harsh today. A common practice was for a town to put care for the poor out to bid. The farmer who was willing to board the poor for the lowest cost per day was awarded the contract. Life in pre-industrial New Hampshire was tough. Caring for the destitute often meant lifting them up simply to the level of subsistence.“Selling the poor to the lowest bidder” gave way to town farms, which gave way to county farms. Today, we have many programs to serve our neediest citizens: Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Aid to the Totally and Permanently Disabled and others.But there is a gaping hole in our social safety net. If you are hungry, you will be fed. If you are homeless, you will be given shelter. But if you are sick, too poor to afford health insurance, and too “rich” for Medicaid, you are out of luck.Most uninsured Americans are responsible, self-supporting people. But if you are making $10 per hour (about $20,000 a year), you simply cannot afford the $4,000 cost of insurance for one person, let alone the average $13,000 cost of a family plan. (If that person is buying in the individual market, rather than paying for an employer-based plan, the cost can be much higher.)A study conducted last year at the Harvard School of Medicine concluded that nearly 45,000 people a year die for lack of health insurance. If 45,000 Americans were dying of starvation, or freezing to death for lack of shelter, there would be an outcry.The solution is simple enough — offer subsidies to those who cannot afford to buy health insurance and require health insurance companies to insure all, regardless of pre-existing conditions.If insurance companies are required to insure those who are already ill, individuals may decide to game the system by doing without insurance until they are sick. To prevent this, we would need a requirement that people buy insurance if they can afford it.If the government offers health insurance subsidies to individuals, some companies will drop their plan, forcing their workers to get government subsidies to obtain health insurance. To ensure a level playing field among employers, and to prevent some employers from dumping their employees into government subsidies, employers should be required to either offer health insurance or pay a tax to cover the cost of government insurance for their employees.The three preceding paragraphs are the outline of the U.S. Senate health-care plan. The plan promotes a basic New Hampshire value: no person should be without the necessities of life — food, shelter or care for illness — because of a lack of means.After the election of Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate, many cheered that they were dancing on the grave of health-care reform. The sad truth is that they are also dancing on the graves of the thousands of people who will die if the plan is not enacted.Ensuring health insurance for all Americans would be an affirmation of the founding values of our state and our nation. It’s time to get the job done.Mark Fernald is a former state senator and was the 2002 Democratic nominee for governor.