400 is the new 300

When health care policy types talk about “300,” they aren’t talking about the new hit Spartan war movie with gruesome and ultraviolent battle scenes and homoerotic tones.

We wonks usually are referring to 300% of the federal poverty level, which is $30,630/year for an individual, and $51,510/year for a family of three. Even though this is literally three times the poverty level, this isn’t a lot of money, especially in a high cost-of-living state like California. Housing and other expenses in the San Diego, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and elsewhere don’t leave a lot for other necessities, including health care.

Some of the health care proposals out there recognize this, to a point. For example, Governor Schwarzenegger, Speaker Nunez, and Senate President Pro Tem Perata all propose to expand public programs to children in families up to 300% of the poverty level. Several counties already go up beyond the 250% of poverty ($25, 525 for an individual, $42,925 for a family of three) — the upper limit of Healthy Families eligibility now.

The Governor doesn’t go so far for adults, proposing subsidized coverage for adults up to 250%, even though he would still impose an “individual mandate” on those above that amount, who get no financial assistance to help meet that requirement. Even the plan in Massachusetts provides subsidized coverage for families up to 300%.

But now there is a greater recognition that help is needed for the middle-income families, up to 400%. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has proposed his own health reform plan, which provides subsidies for families up to 400%. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and key Congressional leader John Dingell have proposed reauthorizing the children’s coverage program (SCHIP, Healthy Families here in CA) to cover all children up to 400%. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has proposed the same for children’s coverage in his state.

Health care is getting costly enough that help is needed for both low- and moderate-income families. Some will argue that such ambitious proposals are harder to pass and to fund. But the recognition that health care is a middle-class issue might be the very reason health care reform is getting such attention from political leaders in the first place.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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