Health care reform can cross the finish line

February 24, 2010

Jan Hudson

I returned from Families USA’s Health Action 2010 conference a few weeks ago with a great deal of hope, optimism and energy about the outcome of the health reform effort.

It was invigorating and uplifting to see the enthusiasm and commitment of folks in DC to get the job done, from advocates to senators and representatives to the president.

While the Massachusetts election did place a damper on the previously expected process for completion, it did not change the need for health care reform for millions of Americans.

It did not alter the fact that: 

  • the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide health care as a basic human right, and so we have more that 46 million Americans without any coverage, and one unnecessary death every 30 minutes;
  • thousands of people continue to lose their coverage every day as many lose their jobs or get priced out of coverage;
  • limits are needed on the amount that families spend on health care costs to stop the dramatic increases in medical-related bankruptcies;
  • insurance companies deny coverage due to health conditions (pre-existing conditions) to those who need it most;
  • insurance companies terminate coverage at the time people need it most – when they get sick; and
  • small businesses need relief to make health care coverage more affordable to their employees.

All of these key issues are included in the bills that passed the House and the Senate. While neither bill is perfect (what bill is?) either one could provide a platform to build on to improve access, coverage and cost for all Americans. 

These bills are designed to make coverage more extensive, but less expensive, and stop insurance company abuses, which fill their coffers while denying needed care to people. In addition, President Obama has just released his detailed proposal in preparation for the health care summit on Thursday. 

Comprehensive health reform is needed now to stop the tide of increasing numbers of uninsured, sky rocketing premium costs (for individuals and business), and to regulate bad insurance company practices.

In a recent New York Times article, Nicholas Kristof asserts we cannot, based on the evidence, afford not to reform health care. A Michigan perspective is provided by Families USA in their recent release The Cost of Doing Nothing. If you are not convinced yet, check out the Michigan page in a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report.

If necessary, there is a process, reconciliation, which could be reasonably used to get health care reform over the finish line. After more than 100 years of failed attempts, it seems about time. (For a brief history of U.S. health care reform efforts check out the January/February Consumer Connection on the League’s website.)

The reconciliation process can be used for limited purposes, but one of the major purposes is deficit reduction, and the Congressional Budget Office has determined that both the House- and Senate-passed bills would reduce the deficit over time. It also requires a simple majority vote for passage.

If the House passed the Senate bill, reconciliation could then be used to resolve major points of difference between the original passed bills. Using the reconciliation process has been maligned by some, but let’s recall that over the past decade, it has been used repeatedly.

While the intent of the reconciliation process is to pass legislation that reduces the federal deficit, the Bush Administration used that process to enact both the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which certainly did not in any way reduce the federal deficit. It is also worth noting that the welfare reform legislation in 1996 was passed as a reconciliation act (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act), as was the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 1997.

As the debate continues, I hope that the media and our congressional representatives can restrain themselves from promoting the kind of misinformation and fear-mongering that was used during the summer to confuse and scare people (remember so-called “death panels,” inappropriate accusations of federal take-over of the health care system by some who are secure in their government-run Medicare, erroneous threats that individuals would go to jail if they did not purchase insurance, and on and on).

If members of Congress cannot support the legislation, I hope they would at least be honest about what’s in it. Let them explain to their constituents why they do not want them to have guaranteed health care coverage, not dependent on a job that offers coverage; protection from high rates or denial of coverage if they have pre-existing conditions; protection from sky rocketing cost increases; and dramatic reductions in medical bankruptcies.

Hopefully the president’s health reform summit  Thursday will revive the momentum to get comprehensive reform done. In the meantime, call or write to your senators and representatives, and tell them to get comprehensive health reform over the finish line! If you could use a health care reform morale boost, check out the Health Action 2010 conference sessions.

Now let’s get moving!

— Jan Hudson