State of the Union

President Bush will be giving his State of the Union address next Tuesday January 23 to a joint session of Congress. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the President may propose capping the tax exclusion for employer provided health benefits and use the savings to fund tax credits and state pools to help cover the uninsured. The article includes this fascinating fact:

The current policy of excluding employer-provided health insurance benefits from employees’ tax returns costs the government more than any other tax policy — about $900 billion between 2006 and 2010, counting all health-related breaks. That is more than either the mortgage-interest deduction or the various breaks for retirement savings. Thus, even tinkering around the edges of the exclusion could produce large amounts of revenue for subsidizing coverage for lower-income people.

The new Congress is putting health care in the spotlight as well. Last week Senator Ted Kennedy (D Mass.), the Chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, proposed covering all children and adults from age 55 to 65 under Medicare.(Of course, adults aged 65 and older already are covered under Medicare.) Today, three rather strange bedfellows, the Business Roundtable, AARP, and the Service Employees International Union joined together to announce a new campaign for making health care affordable called Divided We Fail. According to the Wall Street Journal, “a bipartisan group including Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) and Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) plans to introduce legislation [tomorrow] that would provide grants to states to craft their own plans for helping the uninsured.” The Hill newpaper reports that on Thursday “a group of healthcare-industry organizations, business interests and consumer groups will launch their Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured.” This should be interesting.