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Embrace Change in America’s Health Care System

Embrace Change in America’s Health Care System
By Rep. Jim McDermott

There are some who say we cannot afford health care reform during this time of economic upheaval, but I say we cannot afford to delay any longer and this is precisely the time to act.  If we hope for true economic recovery, we have to address the crisis in our health care system.  This is not just about covering the uninsured.  This is about providing real health care security for all Americans.  Whether we like it our not our health care financing structure is directly tied to our employment structure.

To truly understand why health care reform must be part of an economic recovery plan one only needs to look at the reasons our economy is in free fall.  First it was the housing crisis.  As more and more homeowners went into foreclosure the value of our housing stock plummeted, which negatively impacted all homeowners. The trickle down effect of the housing crisis is well documented; first housing, then banks and here we are.

But health care costs have had a direct impact on foreclosures.  A recent survey estimates that 25% of people entering foreclosure said that their housing problems resulted from medical debt.  Health care is an expense that you cannot postpone or shop around for when you need it.  If you have a heart attack you go to the ER.  If your child has a fever you go to the doctor.

An estimated 1.5 million families lose their homes to foreclosure every year due to unaffordable medical costs and many of these families are insured as well.  Today, being insured does not mean access to affordable health care.

Another contributing factor to our economic recession has been the growing inability of our large and small businesses to afford health care.  GM cannot compete with foreign car companies that do not have the health care costs burden facing GM.   How does GM compete when they are facing double digit increases in the cost of health care? 

Health insurance costs have also resulted in a stagnation of wages giving workers less discretionary income to spend.  Workers are now paying $1600 more in premiums annually for family coverage than they did in 1999.  Health insurance premiums have risen nearly 6% a year over the past several years, yet wages have not kept pace. 

Health care reform must be about reforming our system to provide access to affordable quality health care for all Americans.  Reform must also address issues of prevention and primary care.  Today we spend billions treating a disease that could easily have been prevented or managed.  We spend billions treating the effects of diabetes or heart disease and little is spent on preventing or managing these diseases. 

A recent study by the Milken Institute estimated that we could save a trillion dollars a year with better prevention, management and treatment of chronic diseases.  Solutions are not esoteric and they are within our reach, if we would only demand as a nation to do what every other industrialized nation does and that is provide health care to every citizen.

As it stands now American families and businesses are strapped because of health care costs.  Businesses have less to invest in R&D or new technology to remain competitive and families have less purchasing power.

We have spent billions bailing out Wall Street, the banks and the auto industry.  We certainly can invest an equal amount in our health care system.  We are looking to provide real economic recovery and it must include health care reform.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District, and he is also a medical doctor and psychiatrist.

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