To their credit, majority House Republicans in Columbus have taken an important step toward resolving costly health-insurance coverage problems in Ohio. They unveiled comprehensive legislation that would extend coverage to those who typically fall through the cracks as well as those who are penalized with outrageous rates for pre-existing medical conditions.
Whether the measure, sponsored by Rep. Jim Raussen, of Springdale, survives an expected fight from insurers, hospitals, and others is uncertain. But it at least keeps alive necessary public discourse on health-care reform, as rising health costs put a suffocating squeeze on middle-class Ohioans, straining individual budgets even more than rising tuition or fuel bills.
The aim of lawmakers is to lessen that burden by reshaping health insurance coverage in Ohio. Under Mr. Raussen's bill, insurance companies would be required to offer coverage to dependents up to age 29 and, particularly important to many older Ohioans, require them to create a pool of high-risk people whose insurance would be subsidized by the state.
Right now, thousands of residents who fit the high-risk profile can only be insured by a carrier if they're willing to pay double or triple what it used to cost them in health insurance premiums. Those who can't afford to shell out several hundred dollars more a month in premiums may just do without, which inevitably leads to higher premium costs for everyone.
The bill also includes a wide range of other proposals from providing tax credits to Ohioans below the poverty line who aren't eligible for Medicaid to helping small businesses provide employee coverage through discounted premiums on workers' compensation.
And, in a bid to head off health problems from ever becoming medical bills, the measure would ban trans fats from food served in public schools.
Of course, if the entire bill were enacted, paying for it would be a huge challenge. The estimated price tag in the first year is $150 million, rising to as much as $550 million annually. With Ohio facing a budget deficit of up to $1.9 billion over the next 18 months, funding will be difficult if not insurmountable.
But at least the movement to fix Ohio's broken health-care system is advancing. Democrats have floated an even more far-reaching program and Gov. Ted Strickland has assembled an advisory committee to come up with a plan to cover 500,000 more Ohioans by 2011.
As California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger acknowledged, even after suffering a major setback in his efforts to restructure his state's health-care system, this issue is too important, and the crisis too serious, to walk away now.