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March 15. 2014 9:06PM

Dave Solomon's Gettin' Down to Business: Tim Eccleston has a health dream for the nation


 


Tim Eccleston, a program administrator in the state Department of Education, is traveling to Washington, D.C., next week in part to pitch his health care plan to legislators. (DAVE SOLOMON/UNION LEADER)

TIM ECCLESTON is leaving for Washington, D.C., on Monday from his home in Hooksett on a dual mission that in some ways reflects the duality of his life.

As a program administrator in the state Department of Education, Eccleston oversees the state's standardized testing programs, and is headed for the nation's capital to attend an assessment conference that starts on Tuesday.

But he plans to arrive a day early and, on his own time, pursue his other passion - solving the puzzle of affordable health care for all Americans.

Eccleston has appointments with the health care policy advisors for Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Annie Kuster and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida's 23rd Congressional district and serves as chair of the Democratic National Committee.

He hopes to enlist their aid in gaining political traction for a proposal he developed as part of his final research project for his master's degree in public administration.

It's called CitizenCare, and before you dismiss Eccleston as just another policy wonk on a quixotic quest, know that his idea has been well-vetted and tweaked over the years with input from some pretty credible sources, including former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and governor of Utah, Mike Leavitt, whose review and critique helped shape and refine the proposal.

The youngest of seven boys born to an Irish family from the Boston area, Eccleston spent many years in Utah after his family moved there, thus the connection with Leavitt.

He decided to enter the health policy arena after his research for a master's degree in public administration convinced him that Obamacare will never be able to deliver on its promises of affordability or universal access and that its loudest opponents don't seem to have any alternative.

All that, and one other reason: "It's the most important topic of our time," he says.

"People understand the ACA, as much as it wanted to do, is not working out. When I did my paper, my analysis, the conclusion was if we continue to follow this model that was developed - the insurance company pays all model - it will never, no matter what you do, become affordable. I don't care if you have great competition across the board, it can't be affordable for all Americans."

As you might imagine, Eccleston's plan is long and complicated, addressing virtually every contingency from tort reform to portability of insurance from state to state.

For the full picture, visit citizencare.us, where he lays it all out in painstaking detail, including a lengthy FAQ.

He's invested his own money to get the site up and running, and has registered the name CitizenCare America as a first step toward establishing a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

The two pillars of the plan are to get employers out of the health insurance business, and to create a national catastrophic health insurance plan that would operate to some extent like Medicare, with the money collected by the federal government but administered by the states.

People would still have to buy acute and preventative care from private insurers, which is where employers could still help, but at significantly lower prices.

"It's basically Medicare for everyone, except for acute and preventative care, but state controlled," he said, "which is what Gov. Leavitt liked. It's what states have been asking for."

States would also be given the power to negotiate in cooperation with insurers and health care providers on appropriate costs or reimbursement rates for each state or each region within a state.

Eccleston is convinced that the U.S. model of relying on businesses to pay most of the premiums for their employees' health insurance coverage is unsustainable and a big drag on the economy.

He is banking on support from business to generate momentum for the plan, once CEOs and boards of directors realize the benefits.

"This is like a gift to business, because businesses will no longer having to worry about their employees and their health insurance, and the rates going up every year," he said. Businesses would also be free of the taxes now imposed on large corporations to pay for the subsidies needed to make insurance "affordable" on the Obamacare websites.

"If GM can save $1 billion a year, each year . if Donald Trump can save a quarter of a billion every year, then they'll get behind it," he said.

That kind of heavy-artillery support will certainly be necessary for what Eccleston is proposing.

There would be a new CitizenCare deduction along with Social Security and Medicare on the paychecks of working Americans, but Eccleston says it would be so much less than they now pay for health insurance premiums that most Americans now paying a portion of premium would see an increase in take-home pay.

The employer-based system in the U.S. came about accidentally, Eccleston says, in the wake of World War II, when wage and price controls made it difficult for businesses to compete for top talent on the basis of wages. "So they added health insurance benefits," he said.

That worked for a few decades until health care costs, new technology and more frequent use of the health care system by Americans made health insurance premiums the number one headache for far too many businesses.

Obamacare only perpetuates the problem by continuing to rely on an employer-based system, he said.

The notion that some of his proposals will find their way into legislation is a long shot, but Eccleston is determined to try, and truly believes he has a chance to at least influence the discussion as an everyday citizen.

"Politicians aren't the only people with good ideas," he says.



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