"Fifteen percent of Americans — one in seven — is uninsured," Breaux, D-La., said in remarks prepared for a Thursday announcement of his plan. "That is simply too many. Providing insurance to all our citizens is simply our duty as a nation."
The Census Bureau reported in September that increasing unemployment rates had pushed the ranks of the uninsured to 41.2 million people in 2001, 1.4 million more people than the previous year.
Breaux, a moderate who has been able to work well with Republicans and Democrats, is proposing that all U.S. citizens have access to a group insurance rate. It would be similar to the federal employees' health program, in which employees are pooled together and the government negotiates the lowest premiums and offers a menu of health plan options. Under Breaux's plan, states would offer the group rates to residents.
States could even join with neighboring states to create larger pools under the proposal. Insurers participating in the pools would be barred from denying a person coverage based on a pre-existing condition.
Tax credits would be offered to low- and middle-income Americans to help pay for premiums. Premiums for the poorest would be fully subsidized.
The government also would establish individual health accounts for the poor. Families could use the money for doctor co-payments, premiums or other health expenses.
President Bush also is weighing in on the political battle over how to increase Americans' health insurance coverage. On Jan. 29 he is to unveil a plan to overhaul Medicare by allowing for more private competition, aides have said. Bush also will ask Congress to pass a GOP-backed prescription drug program for the elderly.
And the president is expected to propose allowing small businesses to pool together and offer health insurance for employees under federal law, skirting state regulations.
Recently, Sen. Edward Kennedy said he planned to introduce legislation that would require all employers with more than five workers to provide health insurance for employees and their dependents. The coverage would have to be as good as that provided for federal employees. For those with low incomes, the government would offer subsidies to help pay premiums.