Health Care Like Your Congressman's

PORTLAND, Maine, Oct. 19, 2006 — -- Shawn Saindon works a full-time job on the docks in Portland, Maine, and even though he puts in 50 to 60 hours a week, his company offers no health insurance.  

"I think about it all the time. If something happened to my wife, what do we do?" Saindon said.

Just this year he scratched a cornea and treatment cost him $1,200. For more routine care, preventive procedures are not in his budget.  

"That's just wrong. It's absolutely wrong," Saindon said.  

A few blocks away from where Saindon works is the office of Democratic Rep. Tom Allen. Allen and his wife, Diana, pay $294 a month for full access to America's best health care.   The remaining $685 of the monthly premium is paid by their employer -- the U.S. taxpayer.   

Diana Allen admits she never worries about her medical bills.

"I never do. I think I take for granted the fact that our insurance is really good," she said.

Model for All?

  Allen and his wife are two of the roughly 8 million federal employees and their families, from postal workers to the president, who are covered by insurance that is flexible, affordable and transportable from government job to government job. 

The plan is so good that some, including Allen, believe it should be expanded.     

"We can make the federal system a model for how we deal with the small-business community," Allen said.

Among its advantages is the competition it creates between providers, which results in lower costs. The federal plan is made up of more than 280 health plans available to federal workers across the country.  In New York alone, a federal employee can choose from among 18 plans. 

Advocates said that competition keeps costs low: While the price of private insurance premiums is expected to rise 7.7 percent this year, the federal plan will go up just 1.8 percent.   

"It can show you what choice can do, what choice actually means, what intense competition and cost control can result in," said Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation policy institute.  

Back on the docks, Saindon's boss, Lee Kressbach, said he regrets that the only health benefit he can afford for his workers is a flu shot, and he acknowledged that this plan is bad business.

"If your employees don't have insurance, and they don't have the money to go and receive health care, they won't be at their best performance for you," Kressbach said.

He'd support a plan like Allen's that would collect small businesses like his into a statewide pool to gather enough leverage to lower rates -- just like the federal plan.

"That would be fantastic," Kressbach said.

For Saindon, having insurance just like his congressman would mean not having to choose between visiting the doctor and paying family bills. That is a choice nearly 40 million working Americans without health insurance make every day.