KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Will Health Reform Squeeze The Middle Class?

Some Democrats say that the health care plan proposed by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., could squeeze middle-income families, who might have to pay large amounts for mandated coverage.

"The Baucus bill is designed to expand coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, while slowing the rate of growth of health-care costs," all at a cost of less than $900 billion, The Wall Street Journal reports. "But even as Republicans remain unhappy with key aspects of the bill, liberal critics complain that it would force many lower- and middle-income workers to shoulder a greater financial burden when complying with the bill's mandate to buy insurance, by paring federal tax subsidies" (Hitt and Adamy, 9/16).

In a separate article, The Wall Street Journal reports on the individual mandate in Massachusetts and how it might play out nationally, particularly for the middle class. In Massachusetts, the experience of some middle earners shows "how difficult it could be to bring into the insurance pool the millions of consumers who make too much money to qualify for assistance, yet not enough to bear the full cost of new policies on their own." Massachusetts has managed to insure all but 3% of people, but "[o]n a national scale, pulling off an individual mandate could be more difficult. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that as many as nine million legal American residents might still go without insurance under the initial House legislation released in July, despite its subsidies. The leading proposal in the Senate would place more restrictions on assistance, likely increasing the number who might go without insurance" (Fuhrmans, 9/16).

Marketplace: "All five bills currently circulating in Congress would expand Medicaid for the poor. And they would provide subsidies to help low and middle income families buy coverage, if they aren't insured at work. But premiums, as we all know, are only the beginning. There are co-pays and deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. And when you add it all up, health care might still be too expensive for too many" (Keith, 6/15).

Reuters: "As debate rages on how to reform the U.S. healthcare system, many of the one in six Americans now without medical insurance are hoping that reform brings at least one thing -- affordable coverage." A May 2009 survey of uninsured voters by Rasmussen Reports "showed 56 percent described the U.S. healthcare system as poor and 48 percent said health costs had caused them to miss credit card or mortgage payments" (Carey, 9/16).

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