Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, February 16, 2008

  Reforming the Food Insurance Industry

Like many of you, I've been paying close attention to what the candidates have been saying about their proposals to reform the food insurance industry. I've followed the presidential debates closely and compared the candidates' food insurance plans very carefully. For me, the single most important issue facing the country in this election is the need to extend food coverage to some of the 40 million Americans who have no food insurance at all.

Although neither the Clinton nor Obama plans are perfect, at least they're trying to address the problems caused by a confusing national patchwork of private food insurance that is increasingly inadequate - except for the most basic of needs - and all too often remains out of the reach of middle class Americans anyway. For decades, Republican administrations have watched idly as the food-care crisis in the country reached disastrous proportions. So at this stage any action at all is welcome and long overdue.

Originally I approached the food-care debate from the point of view that the only satisfactory solution would be to provide universal coverage. But as I became more involved in the primary campaign, I came to realize that that was an unrealistic goal at the moment. I now recognize that the best way forward will be to try to extend private food insurance little by little to include some of those who are doing without. There's no way the private insurance companies are just going to give up their near monopoly on food-care delivery. It would involve a really ugly fight against the insurance industry lobbyists who dominate Washington. Therefore it's going to have to be a long-term goal of the progressive movement. We've got to agree to make food-accessibility an issue that we won't let go of and won't compromise on.

The main questions, which I'm still unresolved about, are whether to go the route of food-mandates, or to permit people to buy as much food as they need or can afford while concentrating on regularizing and keeping down the costs of food insurance. The biggest problems with mandates are that you have to decide:

  • Will the mandates apply to everybody? Is it fair to force people who are satisfied doing without food care, or who don't feel they need as much food, to buy insurance they may not need or use?

  • Will employers continue to bear some responsibility for ensuring that workers receive at least a basic level of food coverage? If the state becomes involved in mandating insurance for workers whose employers, like WalMart, don't supply them with food, will other employers begin to abandon their food-related responsibilities?

I don't have the answers to these problems. But I do want to see that our Democratic candidates are taking seriously the problem of extending food-care to some of those who've been struggling to get by without it. I'd prefer as a Democrat to see everybody have access to food, if not right away then as soon as possible. But I'm willing to be patient and see if one of the reform proposals that uses incentives and subsidizes private insurance companies can somehow reform the food-care industry to the point that eventually everybody who wants food can afford a plan that suits their needs.

My vote in the Pennsylvania primary in April will go to the candidate who can convince me that they're most serious about reforming the food insurance industry, with the ultimate goal of making food accessible to all Americans. It's not just the right thing to do. It's what we need to stand for as Democrats.



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