The central principle of medicine is first do no harm. Over the past several years, legislation that would provide health care coverage to all Americans has been gaining momentum in state houses and in the halls of Congress.

Many states have seen an outpouring of proposals as state legislators aggressively move to make health insurance available to all their citizens. Some of the most visible (and most publicized) plans are from California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Massachusetts. Maryland is seeking to require the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, to spend more on employee health care.

Shawn Conrad In April 2006, Massachusetts enacted legislation that will provide health coverage to virtually every resident of the state within the next three years. The bill signed by the governor (and now GOP presidential candidate), Mitt Romney, will require state residents to buy health insurance if they don't get it from their place of employment. Under the plan, all but the smallest of companies will face financial penalties if they don't cover their workers. Romney felt that reform was needed because he saw an increase in medical care for Massachusetts patients who lacked health insurance and that their coverage was being paid for by businesses–companies that already offered coverage to their employees and now were subsidizing a separate fund for those who were uninsured and needed medical attention. The new law, which begins next month, allows people who earn less than three times the federal poverty level to buy into a state-subsidized plan with benefits and no deductibles, including dental care. Many health advocates see this plan as the national model for health coverage. Only time and medical experience will tell if this legislation has legs.

Ideas focused on providing health coverage to constituents are not limited to the state level. Members of Congress and the Bush Administration have focused on the skyrocketing cost of health care. The national trend is that as health care costs continue to increase, fewer employers and working families will be able to afford coverage, leading to an increase in the number of uninsured Americans.

At the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA), our objective is to increase small businesses' access to affordable health coverage for their employees through a bill promoting small business health plans (SBHPS, H.R. 241) and via other market-driven reforms. When asked what legislation dealers would support, our talking points are:

  • Access to affordable health care should be increased for all Americans.
  • Health care reform should be market-driven.
  • Reform should not result in additional and/or costly mandates on employers.
  • Small businesses should be permitted to pool together to purchase insurance for their employees.
  • If reforms continue to rely on employer-provided care, tax breaks and other incentives should be included to offset the cost of providing insurance to their employees.
  • Greater emphasis should be placed on education and disease prevention to encourage Americans to live healthier lifestyles, thereby reducing the demands on the nation's health care delivery systems.

Discussions will continue as to the most effective means to provide affordable health care for all U.S. citizens. In the meantime, eat a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise and a good night's sleep. In the short run, this may be the most effective way to reduce your personal health care costs. –Shawn Conrad is president of NLBMDA. 800.634.8645. E-mail: [email protected]