The Beaver County lawyer who ran for Congress in 2004 as the candidate of the American Healthcare Party is sounding a bit more realistic this year about his political chances. Steven Larchuk has helped form a new coalition to get a universal health-care plan passed in Pennsylvania. "If we approach legislators who are most likely to support it," Larchuk says about the group's health-care reform bill, "they are also least likely to be able to get it passed."
Larchuk, a lawyer who has worked on both sides of medical malpractice cases, founded the Pennsylvania Healthcare Solutions Coalition this spring with a former health commissioner of Philadelphia, Walter Tsou, M.D., and Charlie Crystle, a Lancaster software executive. They hope to turn their model bill into General Assembly votes by 2007.
"Conservative Republicans are in charge of the legislature," Larchuk notes. "It's difficult for a conservative Republican to stand up and support a universal health-care proposal no matter how good it is for business or their constituencies. Somehow they have to find the courage to do just that. Our hope is, by stepping forward with a plan, we make that easier."
The group proposes coverage for everyone; the large number of uninsured provided the initial impulse for the bill. It would be paid for by "a 10 percent Health Care Levy on payrolls (including the self-employed) plus a 3 percent Wellness Tax on all personal income," according to Coalition literature. The plan replaces all private insurance and all government programs except Medicare and Veterans Administration benefits, and would not involve deductibles, co-pays or caps.
"The health-care crisis isn't just a crisis of access," Larchuk adds. "Universal single-payer health-care is the silver bullet for the Pennsylvania economy. No one thing we could do would do so much to help our economy." For instance, removing health-care costs from worker's compensation settlements would improve the profits of Pennsylvania businesses; reducing the high cost of health-care to Commonwealth employers and workers would also go a long way to keeping people in the state, he says: "There's nothing else we can do in this state that can do as much for so many, so quickly."
Large malpractice insurance premiums and costly settlements in malpractice cases have long been an issue between doctors' and lawyers' groups in the state. The Coalition's plan replaces the current fault-finding system of deciding malpractice cases with a no-fault system, "which takes the threat of economic ruin off the backs of people we count on to save our lives," Larchuk says.
The cost of American health-care -- $1.8 trillion last year -- and its effect on human life surpasses that of even war, making other things seem "trivial in comparison," concludes Larchuk. "We are out of time on this problem. And someone, somehow, in Harrisburg has to step forward and dare to lead on this."