Getting rid of officials who insist on keeping their government-supplied coverage is mandatory for long-term health insurance reform.
Friday, October 30th, 2009
From UtahCEO Magazine, November 2009
Utah Health Insurance Reform
It’s time to make our elected officials subject to their own regulations.
Our highways, restaurants and airports function as well as they do because all of us — poor and rich alike — drive on the same roads, eat at the same establishments and fly on the same planes. Making our politicians and government officials mortal when it comes to health insurance is the only way to ensure a long-term, permanent fix to our current health care crisis.
by Paul Zane Pilzer
One of the primary reasons Utah has a problem providing its citizens with affordable healthcare is that our 104 elected senators and representatives receive lifetime, state-supplied, taxpayer-paid health insurance.
As we head toward the next election, each Utah voter should pledge to vote against any state representative who refuses to support legislation making our elected representatives and their families the same as ordinary citizens when it comes to their health insurance.
Utah legislators are part-time state employees who work only the few months each year when the legislature is in session, yet they receive generous state-provided health benefits for themselves and their families at an annual cost to taxpayers of approximately $12,000 per elected official. Moreover, representatives who serve for 10 years or more can keep these benefits for life.
Instead, the state of Utah should simply give each legislator a $12,000 annual tax-free allowance to purchase his or her own personal health insurance, or to pay the cost of participating in their employer’s group plan, just as ordinary citizens do. This is not intended to punish our elected officials — it is designed to get them working to improve access to health insurance for every Utah resident.
In February 2009 a bill was introduced by Rep. Eric Hutchings (R-UT 38th District) to do exactly this. However, it was quickly killed by the House leadership, which realized that if the bill reached the floor, no legislator who voted against it would get re-elected.
The need to make our legislators “mortals” subject to their own regulations is more critical than most people realize. For example, Utah, like most states, has a federally-mandated program called HIPUtah that provides its unhealthy citizens with state-guaranteed personal health policies at 2-3 times the cost of normal health insurance. Despite its high cost, HIPUtah can be a lifesaver — for example, to a family with no employer-provided health benefits that has a child with leukemia. More than 50 percent of Utah’s small employers do not offer health benefits to their employees.
In 2009, to help such families with the tremendous financial burden of HIPUtah-type coverage, the federal government began allowing employees to pay for such coverage through pre-tax salary adjustments and/or tax-free reimbursements from their employer. Incredible as it may seem, in 2009 the Utah legislature mandated the cancellation of HIPUtah coverage for any Utah citizen who accepts even one penny of employer contribution toward their HIPUtah coverage — even though Utah employees, as U.S. citizens, are allowed to accept such contributions under new federal regulations.
The sponsor of this reprehensible mandate was Rep. James A. Dunnigan (R–UT, 39th District), a health insurance agent with a reputation for being a “bought and paid for” representative for health insurance special interests. Rep. Dunnigan needn’t be concerned bout the cost of his own daughter getting leukemia because he and his family receive virtually unlimited health coverage, tax-free, as a state representative.
Repealing the Dunnigan legislation is but one of hundreds of ways we could be improving healthcare for every Utah resident, if we could get our elected officials to drive on the same “health highways” that the rest of us must use.
Our highways, restaurants and airports function as well as they do because all of us — poor and rich alike — drive on the same roads, eat at the same establishments and fly on the same planes. When a highway is in need of repair, when a restaurant serves tainted food or when an airport closes down, our politicians immediately use their connections to get the problem fixed. Making our politicians and government officials mortal when it comes to health insurance is the only way to ensure a long-term, permanent fix to our current health care crisis.
Moreover, Utah has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the nation in this noble quest. Once passed here in Utah, our great state would become the model for other states, and for the federal government, to make all elected officials subject to their own regulations when it comes to health insurance.
Paul Zane Pilzer is a former economic advisor in two White House administrations, the author of nine bestselling books, and the founder of several Utah-based companies. For more information visit www.paulzanepilzer.com.
Comment by Professor Pilzer on 10/31/09: