U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was sworn into his 11th term in Congress Wednesday, and he's in distinctly hostile territory. The Republican-controlled House is planning on passing a repeal of health care reform, the Democrats' signature achievement of the last session. (With a Democratic Senate and president, it's unlikely to become law.)
During an appearance Tuesday on TBD NewsTalk, Moran was more than willing to explain exactly why this was a terrible idea. Among his reasons: "The fact is that when you cover another 40 million people so that we and localities and so on don't have to pay for uncompensated care -- we pay for more than $100 million of uncompensated care through tax bills just in the 8th district alone -- the fact is that when you cover another 40 million people, that's hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the private sector for health professionals."
The section between the dashes seemed hard to believe. Are federal taxpayers forking over more than $100 million for uncompensated care in just the areas of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax that are represented by Moran?
To start off, uncompensated care is care hospitals are forced to give those who don't have insurance or otherwise can't pay their bills. Every year, for example, untold numbers descend on emergency rooms to address often preventable ailments. To provide such emergency care, the federal government, states and localities pick up the tab through Medicare. Other times, people simply don't pay their bills, and the costs are passed along to everyone else through higher insurance rates.
Health care reform's provision that forces everyone to buy insurance would cause the problem of uncompensated care to shrink somewhat. Governments would still have to subsidize care for those who couldn't afford it, but with more people paying into the system, its costs would decline. One study by the Urban Institute Health Policy Center estimates that health care reform will cause the total amount of uncompensated care to decline from $62.1 billion in 2009 to $46.6 billion in 2019. Without the reform bill, it would have skyrocketed to between $107 and $141 billion in the same timeframe.
Uncompensated care also forms a key plank of the Obama administration's legal defense of the law, which Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and others argue is unconstitutional. A USA Today article explains:
At the core of the legal dispute is whether a person's decision not to buy health insurance can be considered economic activity that affects commerce.
Government lawyers contend that it is and stress that the uninsured affect costs throughout the system. They argued in a filing that the uninsured consume "tens of billions of dollars in uncompensated care each year." Those costs — $43 billion in 2008 — are borne by doctors, hospitals, insured individuals, taxpayers and small businesses.
"Make no mistake: Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are actively engaged in economic decision-making — the decision to pay for health care out-of-pocket or to seek uncompensated care," Cutter said.
So now that we understand why this is so important, is Moran right? Yep. A spokeswoman for the congressman pointed us to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It shows that hospitals and providers in the district spent $102 million on uncompensated care in 2008, the most recent year for which data was available.
Moran gets an Honest Abe.