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Brainstorming On Universal Health Care

If you've ever wanted your voice heard in Congress on an issue of significance, now's your chance.

A non-partisan Congressional panel is out with its report on universal health insurance coverage and how to get it in this country, with an approach including taxes and fees. The findings are preliminary, to give the public a chance to read it and comment.

In its report, the blue ribbon panel - established by Congress with the mandate of finding out what Americans want when it comes to health care - says the federal government should guarantee that all Americans have basic health insurance coverage.

"Assuring health care is a shared social responsibility," says the interim report of the Health Care America, an advocacy group that pushes free market approaches to health coverage. "We want universal access, but this report just pushes all the difficult problems onto somebody else's plate. It says government needs to do it all."

George Grob, the executive director of the Citizens' Health Care Working Group, said the group was not asked to say specifically how to get to universal coverage. However, the group did recommend that financing strategies be based on principles of fairness and shared responsibility. The strategies should draw on revenue streams such as enrollee contributions, income taxes, so-called "sin taxes" and payroll taxes, the report said.

"We're already paying for health care for everybody who gets it, including people who don't have health insurance coverage who are taken care of when they go to the hospital," Grob said.

Advocates of universal coverage said the group's goals are an important reminder of what the public wants.

"But I'm not sure it moves the ball downfield in terms of figuring out precisely how that should be done," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

The group's stated values and principles are as important as the recommendations, Grob said. Those principles said all Americans should have a set of health coverage benefits guaranteed by law. Those benefits should be "portable and independent of health status, working status, age (and) income," the report said.

Congress passed the bill creating the Citizens' Health Care Working Group in late 2003. The same bill created a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. Congress approved $5.5 million to fund the group's work, which began in February of last year. The group consisted of 14 members representing consumers, the disabled, business and labor, and health care providers.

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