In a country as rich as this one, it's scandalous that more than 30 million Americans have no health care coverage. No Medicare. No Medicaid. No private health insurance.
We're not talking about vagrants and ne'er-do-wells. Seventy-five percent of those without coverage are workers or dependents of workers. They have jobs, either full-time or part-time, but they have no health insurance.Two-thirds of uninsured workers are employed by small businesses with fewer than 25 workers. Many earn less than $10,000 a year.
Normally, the gaps in coverage might be grounds for some form of national health insurance, but these are not normal times. The economy is slumping, jobs are drying up and politicians are wary of anything that might mean higher taxes.
Nor is Congress likely to pass a bill sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., requiring employers to provide health coverage to workers and dependents.
President Bush was willing to veto a bill giving workers 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. He won't hesitate to veto a bill forcing companies to offer health insurance benefits.
The better bet is that lawmakers will find ways to bring more families under the coverage umbrella, either by making them eligible for Medicaid or by making health insurance more attractive to small firms that say they can't afford it.
Last month's budget agreement expanded Medicaid coverage and created a health insurance tax credit of up to $426 in 1991 for low-income workers with children. The credit is refundable to families with no tax liability.
This kind of health insurance subsidy makes more sense than continuing to offer child care credits to double-income families earning upwards of $70,000 a year.
"I doubt we can cover all the uninsured," says Michael Langan of Towers Perrin, the benefits consulting firm. "But we can nibble at the problem. The issue won't go away."