Kennedy Calls for Universal Health Coverage

January 22, 2003 ( - Sen. Edward Kennedy is calling for mandatory employer-provided health insurance at all but the smallest US companies.

Kennedy’s Quality Health Care for All Americans Act requires employers with more than five workers to offer a health insurance policy for which they pay three-quarters of the cost. Workers would pay the remaining 25% under the bill.

“The fundamental reform we need is to guarantee that every job in America comes with health coverage,” Kennedy said in the speech delivered at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. “Those who get up each morning and work 40 hours a week, year after year, should earn not only a decent wage, but the basic social decency of health care at a price they can afford. A solid majority of businesses already provide health insurance to their employees, and the rest should fulfill that obligation, too.”

Kennedy, (D-Massachusetts), ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called for the mandatory health plans to provide the same coverage as is now available to members of Congress and to federal employees under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Americans without employer coverage should be allowed to buy it separately through Kennedy’s proposed program with financial assistance available to those on low incomes, he said.

Kennedy: Take Another Look at Cutbacks

Kennedy called on Congress to revisit the cutbacks in government payments for hospitals and doctors, saying   “Hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and home health agencies require more support, not less, to survive the excessive cuts enacted in 1997 that were never intended to be so steep.”

To help hold down administrative costs, Kennedy called for a systemwide technology update. “Very large savings can be achieved if we stop running a 21st century health care system with antiquated administrative methods that drive up costs,” Kennedy said. A more modern recordkeeping administration system will also allow the government to increase payments to health providers based on their quality of care and not simply on the number of procedures performed, he said.

Kennedy contended that lawmakers should approve a much-debated Medicare prescription drug benefit. “It is shameful that we have failed to meet this urgent need before now,” he said. Finally, Kennedy argued that lawmakers should overturn the controversial ban on stem cell research to cure afflictions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes.

“It is increasingly clear that the only effective and fair answer to the worsening health crisis is to embrace a broader reform that represents our true common purpose,” the veteran lawmaker said. “We were right to seek that goal in 1993 and 1994, and we have learned enough in the decade since then to achieve it now.”

Kennedy said his proposals would reduce US health care costs by 20%. He said health care expenditures in the United States currently total $1.6 trillion annually and a reduction of 5% percent ($80 billion) would produce sufficient savings to pay for his plan.