Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sept. 10: Solution To Public Health Insurance Option In.....Hurricane Andrew?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

President Barack Obama did what he needed to do in his speech last night. (And yes, he got an assist from U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, who picked the wrong time to open his mouth and the right time to give another punchline to late-night comedians.)

Bravo to Obama for saying that denial of coverage by insurance companies because of pre-existing conditions would be illegal. That denial is discrimination, and like other forms of discrimination, it must stop.

Obama also talked about compromise - on a public health insurance option, among other issues. Obama's speech was well-received, but there are still liberal Democrats saying they can't vote for a bill that does not have the public option.

An idea for a compromise might lie in what Florida did with home insurance after Hurricane Andrew. Besides hundreds of millions of dollars of property damage, the storm provided a hard hit to insurance companies and many Floridians who had never dealt with a direct hit by a hurricane. (Andrew was the first storm to score a direct hit on South Florida since Hurricane Betsy in 1965.)

In a special session, the Florida Legislature created, and Gov. Lawton Chiles signed, the Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), kind of a pool for insurance companies, but also an entity that came to be known as the "insurance of last resort" for homeowners who couldn't otherwise get covered.

The health care/health insurance crisis is its own kind of storm, with tens of millions of victims - the uninsured, the underinsured and those who fear losing their insurance because of job or financial issues. During his speech, Obama hinted at the choices that could be available to them.

One should be health care's version of a JUA - a government-managed insurance of last resort available to those who cannot otherwise get coverage for financial reasons. It should be full coverage, too - not like the half-hearted Cover Florida plan, which could more accurately be called Partially Covered Florida.

One size does not fit all Americans, so one form of health insurance should not be the reform. The president recognizes that. It's time for Congress to make a law that meets that standard.

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