Another health plan is announced by President Obama

American Public Health Insurance PlanCredit: US White House

President Obama has announced details of a new American plan that will reduce the number of people who do not have adequate health care coverage. The plan also imposes new restrictions on the ways that companies can do business in the health insurance sector. These allow regular people to obtain insurance despite having various medical conditions that might normally make them ineligible for coverage.

The new health plan grants businesses and individuals tax credits that can offset the cost of medical policies. This allows the existing network of health insurance providers to continue to offer policies to Americans. While the United States does have a national health care provider, Medicaid, the decision was made not to expand this program but instead to work with the existing frame work of private providers. Debate on the issue has been heated.

Medicaid is a federally funded health care plan that covers many senior citizens and those with very low incomes. Costs for this program have risen faster than inflation since it was introduced in 1965. Much of this increase may be attributable to the increase in average age in the country. Older people require more medical care, generally. Since more people now survive into senior years now, compared to in 1965, many more people are eligible now for Medicaid.

President Obama's plan will be raising the low income threshold for Medicaid. This will mean that more younger people will qualify as well. It will have the effect of lowering the number of people who live without health insurance coverage in the country. In 2007, the percentage of Americans without health insurance policies was 15%. Under the new plan, when it is completely phased in, the percentage is expected to drop to about 5%. This will mean, however, that over 15 million people in the United States will still be without coverage.

The plan to grant tax credits for insurance policy payments seeks to make such policies less expensive. As a result, it is expected that more employers will establish plans for their employees. More individuals without an employer paid plan may also obtain their own private policies due to the cost savings. Whether private insurance companies maintain the current rate structure remains to be seen. In a worst case scenario, they may raise rates, capturing extra profit paid by the American government.

The new American health care reforms will still result in a system quite unlike those in many other countries. England, Canada, France and others, have implemented true national health care programs. These countries offer health care to citizens in a socialized system. Many American politicians point at such situations and warn of the disasters that would result in the United States if such programs where adopted. Such criticism of foreign health care is frankly absurd.

As depicted in the Michael Moore movie, Sicko, the realities of health care in Canada, England and France are quite different that the stories offered by politicians. People covered by the national programs are able to obtain required medical treatment as needed. Doctors, nurses and specialists are available within the public systems. Patients receiving treatment do not have to pay any co-pay amounts for their appointments. There are no charges for emergency room visits. Patients are free to choose their own doctors.

In Canada, there is a shortage of medical staff in some areas. As a result, many doctors are quite busy and they might not accept new patients. Usually there are doctors in each area who do accept new patients, however. For those not already on a doctor's patient list, medical clinics are available in most locations. These agencies allow patients to see the on call doctor. Similar to a hospital emergency room, patients are seen in a first come first served basis, subject to disruption by attention by the doctor to more critical patients. There is no charge to the patient for a doctor visit nor for a visit to the medical clinic.

Similarly, Canadians can travel to any of the hospital emergency rooms in their area. On call doctors treat arriving patients in order, excepting for arrivals of critical care patients. Patients using the emergency rooms are not charged for the privilege, if they are enrolled in the public health care plan.

Typically, most everyone who sees medical staff in Canada is covered. Tourists might not be. These people are given service for a fee. As with most payment based medical fees, these are apt to be quite high. As a result, travellers to Canada should ensure that they have travel medical insurance before they enter the country.

One consequence of Canadian socialized medical can be the delivery schedule for services. In an effort to cut or delay costs, public health agencies may elect to restrict the number of patients for certain treatments. This typically happens for more specialized diagnosis machines such as the MRI. Patients deemed to be non-emergency may wait a considerable time before their appointment for such devices. Those requiring service in an emergency, however, are given priority access to such equipment.

The socialized medical plans remove the bulk of the profit element from health care. There are few private insurance companies operating where national programs exists. Those that due provide additional services such as travel medical policies or enhanced nursing. Costs are generally quite reasonable for such policies as they do not need to cover basic doctor or emergency services. As a result, most people pay very little of their money towards health care in these countries.

It is true that taxes are used to pay for medical services in those countries with national health care programs. It is also true in the United States as Medicaid receives funding from both federal and state governments. Studies show that patient costs are lower, per capita, in countries with national programs. There is also a reduction in the number of people suffering severe financial consequences brought on by medical conditions.

President Obama should be congratulated for his insistence that more Americans ought to be covered by a health insurance plan. Whether the plan is fully implemented in the four year timeframe remains to be seen. Those who stand to gain coverage will certainly hope so.