In the journal Health Affairs (pdf), Thomas Buchmueller, Sherry A. Glied, Anne Royalty, and Katherine Swartz carefully dissect the McCain health plan and lay bare the ugly details.
First the bottom line:
"We estimate that twenty million Americans— about one in every eight people with job-based coverage—would lose their current coverage as a result of the change in the tax treatment of coverage. Initially, this loss of job-based coverage would be offset by an increase in coverage in the nongroup market (although not necessarily for the same individuals). Within five years, however, the net effect of the plan is expected to be a net reduction in coverage...The decline of job-based coverage would force millions of Americans into the weakest segment of the private insurance system— the nongroup market—where cost sharing is high and covered services are limited. Senator McCain’s proposal to deregulate this market would mean that people in it would lose protections they now have. These changes would diminish the security of coverage for most Americans, especially those who are not—or someday will not be—in perfect health."Since many bloggers and journalists have emphasized the likely net effects of the changes in tax treatment on reduced long-term coverage, I thought I'd mention a few things that have received a bit less attention.
One key point that has been overlooked is that the current tax exclusion of employer coverage (that McCain gets rid of) has the added benefit of providing protection to low wage workers:
"...to qualify for the tax subsidy, employers must abide by IRS nondiscrimination rules, which require firms to provide similar benefits to high- and low-wage employees. These rules have the effect of increasing the health insurance coverage of less skilled workers who work in firms that also employ highly skilled workers."That's all we need...even more inequality in compensation!
Another salient point is that the McCain plan would effectively bypass many state level health protections:
"Currently, the nongroup insurance market is regulated at the state level...Senator McCain’s proposal envisions a relatively unregulated national market for nongroup insurance...So good luck if you get breast cancer and your coverage is based in Ohio, South Dakota or Wyoming --there is no required coverage. If you have a prior history of breast cancer only 7 states will protect you from a denial in coverage. And you better decide quickly what kind of treatment you want. Six states— Alabama, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island— impose time limits on how long a woman has to choose to have reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy (link (pdf)). Yup, you're going to be treated like welfare moms.
The main effect of establishing a national market would be to undo state laws designed to establish minimum levels of coverage and protect consumers. In a national market where state licenses are not required, insurers will charter in places where regulations are scarce—much like credit card companies do today. ... People in most states would lose access to procedural protections, such as requirements that disputed decisions by managed care plans be subject to external review. People also would lose access to many benefit protections. For example, forty-seven states now require mental health parity, forty-nine states require coverage of breast cancer reconstructive surgery, and twenty-nine require coverage of cervical cancer screening. All of these requirements—as well as regulations in several states that limit the rates that can be charged to higher-cost consumers and that limit who can be excluded from a health plan—would be eliminated under the McCain plan."
Also see this report by CAP on the effects of McCain's plan on women's health.