Pawtucket Times - Fogarty Touts Universal Health Care for R. I.
By: Jim Baron, Times staff writer
NORTH PROVIDENCE - Saying that too many Rhode Islanders do not have health insurance, Lt. Gov. Charlie Fogarty unveiled a plan Wednesday to make it mandatory, like car insurance, by 2010.
Not only would his HOPE Health reform plan result in all Rhode Islanders having coverage, said Fogarty, a Democrat challenging Republican Donald Carcieri for governor, but it would also reduce the cost of uncompensated care at hospitals in the state, establish a reinsurance program for small businesses through an assessment on health insurers, create a public-private insurance product for people who can not get coverage from their employer, and will have a prescription drug element designed to protect seniors from shortfalls in the Medicare Part D program.
"The current system can not be contained," Fogarty told a group of seniors at the Salvatore Mancini Center Wednesday. "We've got to make a change because what we are doing now is unacceptable."
A spokesman for Carcieri blasted the plan, saying it "would cost Rhode Islanders millions of dollars."
Fogarty gave few details of the cost of his proposal Wednesday, saying it would be phased in over a number of years and that the Governor's Council on Health Care Cost Containment and Quality that he would appoint would be working on elements of the plan as time goes on.
He said the first phase would be an initiative to cover all children in Rhode Island, including the estimated 19,000 who currently lack coverage, through the RIte Care and RIte Share programs with premiums based on family income. He likened the plan to the one now being tried in neighboring Massachusetts.
Fogarty told The Times that covering all children in the state would cost about $19 million and the prescription drug plan for low-income seniors would cost about $1 million to $2 million.
Asked how he would pay for the plan, he said increasing the percentage of the people in the state with insurance would drastically reduce the cost of providing uncompensated care to patients who do not have it. That would save money both for the state and for the various hospitals across Rhode Island.
One emergency room visit by an uninsured child costs about as much as enrolling that child in RIte Care for a year, Fogarty told reporters.
Because this would be a top priority of his administration, Fogarty said, he would also reprioritize state spending to help fund it. With health costs rising each year, he added, "Ultimately, it will cost us more money if we don't do it."
One revenue target would be the implementation of the so-called flat tax for the wealthiest Rhode Islanders established earlier this year in a bill spearheaded by House Speaker William Murphy.
"Funding this is a more important priority than phasing in a tax cut for those few individuals which will cost us $73 million in the next seven years. One area we are going to look at, very clearly, is putting this well ahead of that tax cut for those few individuals."
That is not how Murphy sees it.
Spokesman Larry Berman said the House leadership "is committed to fully implementing the flat tax to make Rhode Island more competitive with our neighboring states. This is a priority to attract businesses and business leaders to Rhode Island."
Carcieri spokesman Neal doubted Fogarty's figures.
"I fundamentally question these half-baked cost estimates," he said Wednesday. "It is clear Charlie Fogarty's latest health care plan would cost Rhode Islanders hundreds of millions of dollars. Not only would he need to roll back recent tax cuts, but her would have to impose dramatic new tax increases.
"This is a perfect example of the difference between being governor and lieutenant governor," Neal said. "As lieutenant governor you are free to concoct pie-in-the-sky deas and worry about the money later. As governor you have to worry about the money right now."