January 23, 2008 / 6:44 PM / 12 years ago

Blue Cross proposes fix for uninsured Americans

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A U.S. health insurance giant on Wednesday presented a proposal to reduce the number of Americans without medical coverage and said it was intended as a blueprint for U.S. policymakers.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, whose 39 regional companies insure about 100 million Americans, unveiled a plan which would combine tax credits to encourage people to buy coverage with ideas to improve the quality of health care.

"We’re not going to wait for the government to move," Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Serota told a news conference. "We believe it’s time to act," he said.

The proposal would extend coverage to 30 to 35 million of the 47 million people who are uninsured in the country of about 300 million people, Serota said.

The growing number of uninsured Americans and runaway health costs have emerged as a potent issue in the presidential election. The Bush administration, members of Congress and private groups have offered proposals, but with few results.

President George W. Bush last year proposed a tax deduction of $15,000 for families and $7,500 for individuals who get private health insurance either on their own or from employers, but Congress did not embrace the idea.

Bush has twice vetoed legislation to expand a popular health insurance program for children despite bipartisan support in Congress.

Blue Cross did not name specific levels for its proposed tax credits but said they would go to low-wage workers in small businesses, people whose health premiums represent a large share of their income, people without access to employer coverage and those who have lost a job.

The association also proposed helping states find and enroll people who are eligible for existing public health insurance programs but are not using them.

The proposal outlines several steps to improve the quality of U.S. health care, including the creation of an independent institute to back research comparing the effectiveness of new and existing drugs, devices and medical procedures.

"Thirty percent of the care delivered today is either inappropriate or redundant. We have to fix that," Serota said.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association said the tax credits envisioned would cost the U.S. government $50 to $100 billion per year, but the overall proposal also would yield other savings as uninsured people get coverage and cut down, for example, on hospital emergency room costs. (Editing by David Storey)

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