Critical Condition

Not Just Cato Types vs. Baucus

From the Washington Post

even after Max Baucus (D-Mont.) spoke optimistically of gaining bipartisan backing, lawmakers continued to haggle over a question at the heart of the debate: How can the government force people to buy insurance without imposing a huge new financial burden on millions of middle-class Americans?

Even within his own party, Baucus confronted a fresh wave of concern about affordability. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) declared himself dissatisfied with the chairman’s plan, which, like other congressional reform proposals, would require every American to buy health insurance by 2013.

“Additional steps are going to have to be taken to make coverage more affordable,” Wyden said, “and my sense is that will be a concern to members on both sides of the aisle.”

Under the Baucus plan, described in a “framework” he released last week, as many as 4 million of the 46 million people who are currently uninsured would be required to buy coverage on their own, without government help, by some estimates. Millions more would qualify for federal tax credits, but could still end up paying as much as 13 percent of their income for insurance premiums — far more than most Americans now pay for coverage.

People further down the income scale would receive much bigger tax credits, effectively limiting their premiums at 3 percent of their earnings. But experts on affordability say even those families could find it difficult to meet the new mandate without straining their wallets.