Senator Tom Harkin says two new ideas are likely to be aired when the Senate debates health care reform legislation in November or December, although Harkin doesn’t expect either idea to win approval. One provision would enroll all American children in Medicare, through their 19th birthday.
“We ought to debate it. We ought to see, now, what’s the cost, but what’s the savings?” Harkin says. “..What’s the benefits? What’s the detriments?”
Harkin, a Democrat, is the chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which passed its version of health care reform this summer. It did not include this proposal.
Medicare is the government system which currently provides health care coverage to Americans who are 65 and older. Harkin says enrolling babies, toddlers, kids and teenagers in Medicare would “bridge” a generation gap.
“Young people of child-bearing age tend to think about Medicare as, ‘Gee, that’s just going to all those older people. What’s in it for me? There’s nothing in it for me or it won’t be there for me when I retire,’ that kind of thing,” Harkin says. “But if they see that now their babies and their kids that they’re having during their child-bearing years are covered by the same program, well, you get an intergenerational connection.”
Many American children are covered through state-run health care plans which allow low income parents who do not qualify for Medicaid to buy low-cost insurance for their children. Others, from poorer households, are enrolled in Medicaid, which is government-run insurance for those living in poverty. Harkin says as a parent’s income fluctuates, so does a child’s insurance coverage.
“People who are on Medicaid, especially families with small kids, they may be on Medicaid for a while, then they get a job, then they’re off. Then they may lose their job, somebody gets sick, their income falls down, they’re off. They’re in and out and in and out,” Harkin says. “Every time that happens, it’s an administrative nightmare and it costs a lot of money. Well, if you just have Medicare (for all children until their 19th birthday), that’s the end of it.”
The other idea Harkin expects to be considered during the Senate’s health care debate this year would allow any state government to choose to run a “single payer” or universal health care system for its residents. Harkin describes it as a “state’s rights” issue.
“I learned this in political science in college. States are sort of the testing ground for different ideas and different ways of doing things,” Harkin says. “Well, this might be a good test, to see if it works or not — if a state wants to do it.”
Harkin, though, doesn’t expect that idea or the idea of enrolling kids in Medicare to win senate approval or be included in the health care reform package that lands on the president’s desk.
Harkin predicts the Democratically-led congress will pass health care reform, but a final version may not get to President Obama ’til early 2010. Harkin made that prediction during taping of the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa “Press,” which airs tonight at 7:30 and again on Sunday morning at 11:30.