Mero Moment: The Best Charity Health Plan

The fate of Obamacare is in the hands of voters in November. Either President Obama will get re-elected or he won’t. If he does get re-elected, Obamacare will hit us with full force. If Mitt Romney is our new president, Obamacare will disappear for all intents and purposes.

What won’t disappear are people who get sick and who can’t afford medical care. Health care will always separate the haves and the have-nots in a free society – meaning it will always be a highly contentious, and highly exploitable, political issue. Because people won’t disappear, the issue won’t either.

So what do we about this problem in Utah?

This past week the Legislative Health Reform Task Force began preparing for the full implementation of Obamacare. One of the first steps a state must consider in providing health care as welfare is what it’s willing to cover and what it won’t cover. While the recommendations of the Task Force aren’t binding, they are guiding and the Utah Legislature is likely to adopt whatever it recommends. And its most recent recommendation is to cover as little as reasonably possible.

Obamacare requires states to create an “essential benefits” plan. The Task Force has recommended a plan already in place among state workers called “Basic Plus.” If the Legislature agrees with those recommendations, they’re forwarded to the state commissioner of insurance to issue rules of implementation which, in turn, get forwarded to Washington, D.C., for final approval from the federal government. If the Utah plan is accepted by the Feds, our plan has a green light. If not, we go back to the drawing board.

The “Basic Plan” recommendation seems reasonable for a government welfare program. Of course, the contention always surrounds what’s not covered and in this plan what’s not covered includes: eyeglasses and hearing aids, dental and vision for adults (all kids are covered), allergy treatments, programs to help you stop smoking, autism therapy, infertility treatment, acupuncture, chiropractic services, massage therapy and cosmetic surgery. Welfare advocacy groups don’t like this plan because it limits too many services, although my guess is that welfare advocates would dislike any plan that offered anything less than everything.

And I make that guess with no small amount of irony in my voice because those same welfare advocates consistently ridicule Sutherland’s plan for authentic charity care that doesn’t have built into its concept any limitations on medical services that heal the sick. The only limitations in Sutherland’s health care plan is what Utahns are willing to do for one another – and it seems that’s an entirely too risky prospect for Utah’s progressive community, distrustful of the mainstream values of most residents.

What Sutherland proposes is clearly innovative –  not in concept but in bucking the government health care trend. Most of Utah’s Medicaid population is comprised of working-poor families, meaning families with children who are either unable to afford health insurance or are financially indigent. The smaller part of the Medicaid population includes folks who are long-term disabled. But it’s this bigger portion of the Medicaid population that Sutherland’s plan would service. And it’s this bigger portion that wouldn’t have any limitations of service under this plan when it comes to needed health care. Again, the only limitation in Sutherland’s plan is what Utahns are willing to do for their neighbors.

The Sutherland plan gets rid of concerns about qualifying for services – you won’t get asked to pay for medical care. That’s what we mean by authentic charity care. We figure if you show up at a free clinic for medical care, it’s because you can’t afford it, so why make you (or taxpayers) pay?

It’s funny that a rock-solid conservative group like Sutherland has a better way to provide medical care to people in need than the most progressive supporters of Obamacare. But it’s true.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.