"Give Credit to the People"

By Kay Granger
Special to the Star-Telegram Recently, more than 50 of the largest U.S. employers took the first bold step in tackling the growing problem of the insured in America. With almost 44 million Americans without health insurance, the move by American Airlines, Home Depot, Lockheed Martin and other companies to create a nationwide insurance pool will give part-time, temporary, contract, retired and other employees access to affordable, quality health insurance by 2005. This coalition of companies is an excellent example of how the private sector can come together to address not only the problem of rising group health insurance costs but also a crucial need among an ever-increasing group of hard-working Americans. An estimated 4 million workers will benefit from the move. As good as the plan may be, it still leaves 40 million other Americans without health insurance, and experts predict that the number will grow each year. Dr. Robert Fine, a Dallas primary-care physician who specializes in medical ethics cases, rightly brought another dimension to the issues. He publicly challenged health care industry executives and government officials to fulfill their moral obligation to take action on behalf of "the least among us" -- the uninsured. I am one of several members of Congress who has heard that message, and I have been toiling for the past year to provide a way for the vast majority of uninsured Americans to obtain health insurance. A bipartisan bill known as the SAVE Act, which is now before Congress, complements the health insurance pool that recent efforts by corporate America have endorsed. This legislation, which has attracted more than 40 co-sponsors, provides a mechanism for Americans who do not have employee-sponsored health care or an insurance pool to use tax credits as means to purchase health insurance. Those of us who have sponsored this bill believe that this is the right track for reducing the numbers of uninsured. We believe in empowering uninsured people to buy their own personalized health coverage. We also recognize that the time has come to equalize the tax treatment of health insurance costs, and this proposal gets that done. Because tax credits will be easily accessible, an individual or family would simply assign its credit to an insurer that has a plan that meets the family's needs. If the health insurance that the family wants costs more than the dollar value of the credit, the family simply pays the difference. Buying a health insurance policy directly from a private health insurance company has several advantages. First, it allows maximum choice of plans. Instead of having to rely on an employer for health insurance options, a family can choose from the entire range of plans available in their area. Second, by buying directly, families can keep their preferred policy as they change jobs or even employment status. Third, policyholders can hold their insurance carriers directly responsible when they don't get necessary care, rather than having the employer play middleman. Even if health insurance is available through an employer, a growing number of families find that premiums take a huge chunk out of their paychecks. A health insurance tax credit also should be available to those who are fortunate enough to have access to employer-sponsored health plans. This type of tax credit would ensure that every American has the ability to purchase health care insurance, regardless of income level, regardless of employment and regardless of access to employer-sponsored insurance. Congress and the administration must address the uninsured crisis now. We must strive for a common-sense solution that gives everyone who is not working for a Fortune 500 company access to the health insurance of choice. Studies continue to show that Americans are willing to purchase health care if given a pre-paid, fully refundable credit to be used toward the cost of the plan. When partnered with the major companies' insurance pool plan, the SAVE Act will accomplish what Robert Fine believes is our moral obligation: It will give the most benefit to the most people by taking an enormous step toward solving the problem of the uninsured. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, represents the 12th Congressional District of Texas. She is the author of the SAVE Act.