Don’t be disturbed or annoyed by the escalating debate over health care reform. Yes, we’ve been overwhelmed for the last three months with discussions about the nature and status of health care reform. Newspapers, television, talk radio, town hall meetings, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter and even coffee shops across the country have been deluged with comments, both constructive and adversarial. Some have advocated slowing down; others are determined to make change now. Most of this debate is good and healthy and important. We are shaping the future of our health care system.
We each have our own personal experience with the health care system. Those who have health care coverage from their employer are grateful and feel secure for as long as they are employed. With over 10 million people being laid off in the last year, though, more people are anxious over how they will be covered when their current coverage ends.
Many worry about how they will pay for COBRA coverage until they find new jobs. Others who purchase their own health care coverage pray that they will not be stricken with life-challenging conditions or disease that will cause their premiums to skyrocket beyond their means or be cancelled. Simply said, those with coverage are worried about changing the health care system and those without coverage are worried about not changing the health care system.
Our current mix of health care coverage includes private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare that now cost over $2.7 trillion per year. Adding 45 million uninsured individuals to the system will surely cost even more. Our rapidly aging population and the huge numbers of baby boomers will fuel the growth of Medicare for many years to come. It is certain that costs will continue to rapidly grow even if we do nothing. Some say we simply cannot afford change and others say we cannot afford not to change.
So why are we faced with these decisions now? Largely because (i) we have system that is failing at an increasing pace, and (ii) the politics for change are in place. It is not as though change has not been proposed before.
We chose not to make systemic changes to health care in 1993 when President Bill Clinton and Hillary first proposed substantial change. When George W. Bush was elected president, he promoted and changed the way prescription drugs were paid for under Medicare in 2003. The cost of Medicare went even higher. And in 2005, upon his reelection, he tried to take a further step to reform social security to allow for private investment accounts. His campaign for reform ended without action.
Medicare has remained essentially the same since it was created in 1965, but people live longer on average and drugs and medical advancements are more available and expensive.
Now, President Obama and 59 Democratic senators and 256 Democratic representatives have a clear majority to take action. With the spirit of Senator Ted Kennedy, they must perform on their campaign promises with or without Republican support. In the first term of this newly elected President, they will be the stewards, having the opportunity and responsibility to act and bring change. Failing to act, they will lose substantial support from their constituents. Acting improperly will also cost them support from their base of voters. They must demonstrate that they can deliver a quality program and pay for that program without bursting the federal budget.
So we keep asking. What will reform look like? How will we be affected by reform? What will reform cost? How can reform encourage cost containment? Will health care improve or be diminished? How will we pay for reform? Who will be taxed?
These are all very important questions. It is a complicated issue and there is often not just one answer.
Keep asking questions. Get informed. Stop frivolous rumors. Educating yourself and your friends so that what is done is good and what is not done is also good. Now is not the time to be polite and avoid the discussion of politics. It is of paramount importance that the Qs and As keep coming.
It is essential to our health and the health of our families and to our future as a nation.