Naked City

Texas Dems' Health Care Deal

Health insurance for the whole family for less than $20 per month, offered by the Texas Democratic Party? No, it's no joke and there's no catch: The party, in partnership with the nonprofit Policyholders of America – the national consumer advocacy group founded by Austin's own "Mold Queen," Melinda Ballard – has teamed up with multibillion-dollar risk and insurance services firm Marsh & McLennan to offer a full line of insurance products to uninsured (or underinsured, or expensively insured) Texans.

On July 19, the TDP sent out 100,000 flyers to Texas Dem voters outlining the details of the first stage of their insurance rollout. The first, a "Best Benefits Pharmacy Card," is free and good for up to 20% off the lowest price for prescription pharmaceuticals. The card can be upgraded for $14.95 per month to provide "all family members" with "access to over 400,000 healthcare providers at reduced fees," and includes discounts of up to 50% on prescription meds as well as medical, dental, vision, and hearing care.

The second offer making its way to mailboxes across the state is for "Life Line Screening" – a comprehensive health-screening service that covers stroke/carotid artery, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and peripheral arterial disease screenings all for under $100. In each case, a portion of the fees is donated to the party – a way for Dems to raise cash in an era of McCain-Feingold, which cuts access to soft-money donations. "This signifies that we are looking for innovative ways to raise money with doing good things for people," said party spokesman Mike Lavigne.

The new insurance "company" was the brainchild of Ballard, who had been working on rolling out a line of auto and homeowners' insurance through POA. Ballard's dream took a turn and acquired a partner last year, Lavigne said, when the Dems took an interest in getting involved in an effort to actually do something to help millions of uninsured Texans. The idea took hold and quickly gathered steam through the Association of State Democratic Parties, earning support from the Dem machinery in other states. Indeed, flyers offering the pharmacy card and life screening services are also on their way to thousands of Michigan voters; next month flyers will go out to Dem voters in New York.

If the initial rollout is successful, Lavigne said the Democrats plan to roll out a full line of heath insurance – for individuals and families, small businesses and the self-employed this fall, followed by auto and homeowners insurance this winter – plans that they also hope will be available for everyone nationwide through each state's Dem machinery.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nearly 5 million Texans are currently uninsured – and offering low-cost health insurance is a way to "fight the Bush administration's health policies," Lavigne said. "Republicans have been benefiting off of bad insurance practices for a long time. There's no reason why we shouldn't work to get good insurance practices in hand," he said. "We're walking the walk and not just talking the talk."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Democratic Party, Policyholders of America, Melinda Ballard, Mold Queen, Mike Lavigne, Marsh and McLennan, health insurance

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