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FL Group: Baucus Health Plan Lacks Critical Elements for Reform

October 21, 2009

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Nearly 300,000 Floridians lost their health coverage this year when they lost their jobs, according to a new report from the consumer watchdog group Families USA. Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, says he's trying to fix that problem by blending his $829 billion health care reform bill with the one recently passed by the Senate Health Committee.

Baucus insists the plan would bring health coverage to more than 29 million uninsured Americans, including 4 million in Florida.

"Finally, nobody will ever go broke just because they get sick. I think it's one of the biggest travesties, that many people go bankrupt because of high medical bills. That will stop, with the passage of this legislation."

While the U.S. Senate works to merge the legislation, however, one of the state's largest labor groups has taken the position that the Baucus bill lacks some of the elements critical to health care reform -- including a public insurance option, which some critics believe is the only way to keep insurance costs down by encouraging competition.

Doug Martin is legislative director for AFSME Florida, the union that represents state and city workers. He believes the proposal should also contain adequate subsidies for low-income families to help them pay for mandatory insurance, and tougher requirements for employers to offer insurance.

"This is the only one that lacks a public option; it's the only one that lacks a meaningful employer mandate. We're working right now to make sure the bill that goes to the president will have all the elements to be a successful reform."

As Martin sees it, the Baucus bill unfairly penalizes responsible employers who pay for employee coverage, and requires mandatory insurance that would be tough for lower-income families to pay for.

"People have to have health care, and this should be something that's affordable because, unless they rein in these rampant costs, the system is going to cost more and more and more."

Baucus says the bill would protect people from being denied coverage and would lower costs, all without increasing the deficit. The two men seem to agree on one thing -- that the current system is unsustainable. Martin says Florida's state group health insurance plan faces a deficit of more than $700 million within the next few years.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL