Rendell explains health-care proposal



By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- Gov. Ed Rendell brought his Prescription for Pennsylvania to the Shenango Valley in an effort to drum up support from local business leaders.
"This plan will get through the Legislature if business weighs in," Rendell said during an appearance at the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce. "If business comes in and says this has got to end. If they hear from business, they will act."
Rendell spent more than an hour explaining his plan that proposes to cover 800,000 uninsured adults and drive down health-care costs for everyone else. His administration was responsible last year for instituting the Cover All Kids plan that will ensure that all Pennsylvania youngsters have health insurance by 2009.
Rendell said he hopes to have his Cover All Pennsylvanians, the adult plan, in place by 2008. The governor expects the state Legislature will act this summer.
A mix of federal, state and employer contributions will pay for the plan. Those who are self-employed or have lost their jobs also can buy into the plan, he said.
The state will help pay its portion with a 10-cent increase in the cigarette tax and its first tax on smokeless tobacco products. Rendell said Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not tax smokeless tobacco products.
Employer costs
Small employers -- usually with 50 or fewer employees whose average annual wage is less than 42,000 -- will pay an average of 130 per month to insure an employee on the plan. The employee co-pays vary from 10 to 70 per month depending on wages. Employers who do not participate will pay a fair-share assessment or about 3 percent of their payroll costs to the state, he said.
Rendell noted there are about 103,000 businesses in Pennsylvania that do not offer health insurance to employees.
Pennsylvania is the fifth state to take action on insuring everyone in the state. Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts and California have either enacted new laws or are in the process of enacting new legislation.
Rendell stresses his plan differs from those in other states because he not only wants to insure the uninsured, but drive down costs for all others.
The governor said a 75 percent increase in health premiums from 2000 to 2006 has everyone to the "breaking point."
Savings from prevention
Among Rendell's plans to drive down the costs are instituting requirements for all hospitals to institute safeguards against hospital-acquired infections.
Safeguards put in place at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Pittsburgh cost about 134 per patient, Rendell said. He compared that with the additional 156,000 per patient paid to care for people who have hospital-acquired infections.
"Our system is screwed up. We pay for the doctors. We don't pay for keeping the patient healthy," he said.
Rendell also noted there is a lack of after-hours care across the state, which drives many Pennsylvanians to hospital emergency rooms -- the most expensive form of care in the system.
Rendell wants to provide incentives for doctors and clinics to have evening and weekend hours to divert from emergency room care. He also would like to see nonemergency clinics in hospitals staffed by nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to care for those who are not true emergencies.
cioffi@vindy.com

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