Wyden, Cooper hope to dump employer-based health insurance system

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) don't agree on a lot--Wyden's a liberal Dem and Cooper a conservative Southerner--but they've come together to champion a cause that hasn't gotten much of a hearing on Capitol Hill in decades.

The two are pushing their colleagues to consider completely scrapping the current healthcare system, under which most people get their coverage from employees, and replacing it with a structure allowing employees to buy into health plans of their choice.

Today, having employers supply healthcare seems a given, but historically, it was just something that happened when companies began offering benefits to compete in an era of World War II price controls. In recent years, of course, companies have been struggling to maintain these benefits, with healthcare costs rising at twice the rate of inflation.

Wyden and Cooper would like to see things change dramatically. They'd like to set up a system under which employers turn over the money they spend on benefits to workers, giving employees the ability to purchase coverage themselves from among a selection of plans. This not only would give people more choices in healthcare, but it also would let them take benefits with them if they change jobs. The plan would also provide significant subsidies for those who can't afford to buy healthcare on their own.

What's more, the proposed plan would include a minimum defined benefits package with no exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

Despite bipartisan support--and a nod from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's brother, a bioethicist--insiders say the plan hasn't got much chance of passing. But Wyden and Cooper continue to lobby aggressively for their proposal.

To get more information on this proposal:
- read this Time article

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