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Wednesday, 09 September 2009 14:53

If not now, then health care reform may never pass

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This country must pass health care reform that accomplishes two major objectives: providing coverage for everyone and controlling skyrocketing costs. I believe that the bill must include a public option for those who are now uninsured. And just like automobile insurance, anyone who enters the workplace must be required to have health insurance, either from their employer, their own private plan, or from the public option.

Conservatives and liberals alike agree that our health care system is not sustainable in its present form. Employee-sponsored health care premiums doubled in the past nine years, rising three times faster than wages. American families spend more on health care than we do on food or housing. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if costs keep increasing at the current rate, 25 percent of the nation’s economy will be tied up in the health care industry by 2025.

The fundamental questions for those advocating reform is how can we cover those who now don’t have access to care while controlling costs in an industry where price has become irrelevant? When is the last time you asked your doctor how much a test, an operation or a drug was going to cost?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the current system of employer-provided benefits “has divorced the consumer — the patient — from the real cost of services. It encourages excess spending, runaway lawsuits, defensive medicine (doctors ordering unnecessary tests and procedures out of fear of being sued), and huge malpractice premiums.”

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This is a complex issue, and understanding it has become even more difficult amid the tidal wave of misinformation that is circulating. It’s unfortunate for those of us who believe health care reform is critical that this debate is occurring during an economic crisis that has forced unprecedented government intervention into private industry. Both the outgoing Republican administration and current Democratic administrations supported government taking new and expanded roles to stave off a long-term economic disaster. Intervention to rescue the banking and automobile industries, along with Obama’s stimulus package, have further fueled the long-running fear of too much government intrusion.

The health care problems, however, can’t be solved without government intervention. Government is already the major player in the industry through Medicaid and Medicare. But here’s the truth — Obama does not support a government takeover of our health care. That’s not even being discussed and is a complete distortion of reality.

What he does want is a public option for insuring the 45 million people who currently don’t have health insurance. That option is the best chance for controlling insurance premiums, which in turn will prompt the insurance industry to work with health care providers to keep costs down.

There are other major problems on the other end of the healthcare spectrum that must be resolved as part of reform. Many who have insurance are denied coverage or reach their caps when they face serious problems like cancer or heart problems. Also, changing jobs with a pre-existing condition can be devastating, often leading to a denial of coverage or skyrocketing premiums. A plan for affordable portability of coverage must be included in any reform measure that is passed, along with measures that prevent insurance companies from denying coverage just when it is needed most.

Although I think the public option is necessary, compromises can be found. Some are suggesting allowing the insurance companies to develop low-cost plans for those who currently can’t afford care. This plan includes a trigger for a government option to come into play only if the private companies can’t get the job done. The public option is better, but a compromise that earned some Republican support might be the best possible solution — and the only way to get a bill passed.

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One issue that hasn’t been discussed much as part of this health care overhaul is personal responsibility. We can’t cut our health care costs substantially if Americans continue to suffer from chronic conditions that are preventable.

Our children are suffering from an obesity epidemic. Many of us eat too much and exercise too little. Go to any middle school in the country and observe the children. It is a sad thing to see so many who are obviously on their way to a lifetime of battling obesity.

I don’t have a problem paying taxes to provide health care for a working mom who has a full-time job that pays just above minimum wage and doesn’t offer healthcare benefits. I do, however, have a problem paying for those who cause their own health problems by eating badly, not exercising, and perhaps smoking. I’m not sure how it can be done, but we must encourage lifestyle changes that could substantially reduce total healthcare costs.

•••

Healthcare reform has discussed by nearly every administration since World War II, and we have yet to make meaningful headway. Congress has made more progress in the last six months on this issue than ever before, and citizens need to encourage their lawmakers to finish the job.

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