RealClearPolitics Cross Tabs Blog

« Memoirs of a White House Press Secretary | Cross Tabs Blog Home Page | Is Sebelius at the Top of Obama's VP List? »

JerseyCare

By Betsy Newmark
 

The Wall Street Journal highlights a proposal that a Republican state legislator in New Jersey has introduced to reduce the cost of health insurance for New Jersey citizens.

New Jersey is about the last place one might think to look for free-market policy reform. But this week Jay Webber, a Republican Assemblyman in Trenton, will introduce legislation to let Garden State residents buy low-cost health insurance from any registered policy in any of the 50 states.

Mr. Webber's proposal is a state version of Arizona Congressman John Shadegg's federal legislation to let individuals buy insurance across state lines, and John McCain has also endorsed the idea. But New Jersey would be a perfect test case, because its multiple mandates have made insurance too expensive for hundreds of thousands of families.

The average national cost for a family health plan is $5,799, according to America's Health Insurance Plans, but in New Jersey that same plan costs $10,398 on average. The state's politicians have driven up these costs by forcing insurers to provide gold-plated coverage - even for such voluntary medical services as in vitro fertilization. New Jersey also follows New York and Massachusetts - two other high-cost states - in requiring so-called "guaranteed issue." That allows New Jersey residents to avoid buying health insurance until they get sick, which means they can avoid paying premiums until they need someone to pick up the bill.

This one-policy-fits-all system tends to cause the young and healthy to drop insurance, which only raises the cost of insurance for the sick, which in turn makes coverage unaffordable for ever more families. It's no accident that about 1.2 million people - one of every eight residents - is uninsured in the state.

Under Mr. Webber's choice proposal, New Jersey residents could buy policies chartered in more enlightened states. For example, a healthy 25-year-old male could buy a basic health plan in Kentucky that now sells for $960 a year, about one-sixth of the $5,880 it would cost him in New Jersey. Residents of Pennsylvania pay health premiums that are one-half to one-third as high as do Garden State policy-holders. A new study by the National Center for Policy Analysis estimates that the availability of lower cost plans would reduce by 25% the number of uninsured.

Opponents of interstate insurance say families would be pushed into bare-bones health plans. Not so. Families could still buy the more extensive coverage, but those with modest incomes would have options other than going uninsured. The goal of public policy shouldn't be to cover every medical procedure or doctor's visit, but to prevent families from catastrophic expenses due to a health problem that is no fault of their own.
Representative Shadegg has proposed this on a federal basis and it is part of John McCain's health plan. It makes so much sense, but you know that it will go nowhere in the New Jersey legislature. Democrats in both New Jersey and Congress would prefer to go to government-funded solutions than to allow people to have choice to buy a bare-bones policy. Republicans should be able to defend such a policy proposal and allow the public to listen to the arguments for this proposal versus putting the burden on government to find the money to supply health insurance for everyone as New Jersey Democrats are now proposing.
New Jersey is turning into a microcosm of the national debate on health care. Democrats in Trenton are rallying behind a plan to require that every uninsured individual in New Jersey purchase health insurance from a new state-administered program. So a state that is already so broke that its politicians are contemplating mortgaging its highways might now add a $1.7 billion health subsidy.

The Webber proposal offers lower costs and more choices for consumers, while the Democratic plan mandates public coverage and no choice, while putting a new burden on taxpayers. This is the kind of debate the country should have this election year.

Betsy blogs at Betsy's Page