- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

One of the most pressing social problems we face today is that 44 million Americans are effectively without health insurance. In an effort to address this issue, I believe that for some an answer to this problem can be found in a Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs).

Recent studies released by the Internal Revenue Service confirm MSAs are insuring many of the uninsured at an astounding rate. According to the IRS, since the program began in January 1997, about 100,000 MSAs have been purchased, with one-third of those individuals having been previously uninsured.

For the first half of 1999, that number rose to 42 percent. The program's success comes despite restrictions placed on the pilot program that was part of the bipartisan Kennedy-Kassebaum health care bill that President Clinton signed into law in 1996.

Currently, one can only get an MSA if you work for a company with 50 or fewer employees or if a person is self-employed.

It is my belief that based on the obvious success of the program, MSAs should be available to a larger portion of the population, so a greater number of individuals have the option to enroll, giving the maximum choice and control over their health care.

As part of this year's health care debate, both houses of Congress have passed bills that lift the restrictions on MSAs, making them effectively available to all Americans. Because helping the uninsured is paramount in any health care debate, and because the MSA program has been successfully insuring a certain subset of the uninsured, Congress has an obligation to send a health care bill to President Clinton that makes all Americans eligible for MSAs.

MSAs meet health care needs for working families now and they will do so in the future. Two companies that sell MSA health insurance policies report their policyholders have now saved more than $50 million in their MSAs. This is money that would have gone to insurance companies, but now can be used for health care expenses today and long-term care in the future.

Every American should have this opportunity. The expanded MSA program also will reduce deductibles: from $2,000 down to $1,000 for individuals and from $3,000 down to $2,000 for families. This will make MSA policies even more attractive to many uninsured Americans and will give insurance brokers greater incentive to sell these policies, effectively decreasing the number of uninsured.

Polls continually reveal that the No. 1 health care concern Americans have is maximizing choice and control over their health care. MSAs give patients the power of choice and control they want. They combine a comprehensive, major medical insurance policy to cover large expenses and a tax-exempt savings account to pay for routine medical bills.

By allowing a consumer to save money tax-free to cover his or her own medical expenses, MSAs allow the policyholder to have direct control over medical expenditures, as well as give the freedom to see any doctor or specialist. MSAs have especially been a help to single parents, the self-employed, small businesses and their employees as well as working families.

Until we fundamentally change the ailing health care system, we must employ incremental solutions, and MSAs are one such solution.

It has been eight years since the first Medical Savings Account bill was introduced with bipartisan support into the U.S. Congress. Democrats and Republicans have consistently supported MSAs because they work for hard-working Americans and their families, especially the uninsured.

With restrictions lifted and all Americans made eligible for MSAs, we would provide an option that has proven to be successful with those who were able to access the program. With 44 million uninsured Americans right now, we don't have a moment to waste.

Peter Deutsch, a Florida Democrat, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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