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We Can No Longer Afford to Wait on Health Care Reform

You’ve heard the naysayers complaining that President Obama’s $634 billion down payment on health care reform costs too much.  We’re in a global economic crisis.  How can we afford it?

But, having opposed reform for years—in good times and bad—their argument for leaving our health care system broken doesn’t compute.  By looking at costs but not benefits, they pretend not to know what the advantage of health care reform really is—and why it’s a major benefit to us all.

Think of it this way.  You wouldn’t balance your checkbook by counting the checks you’ve written—then ignoring the deposits you’ve made.  That’s exactly what many opponents of the Obama Plan do, even though they know good health care is intrinsically linked to the health of our economy.

Take housing.  Recent surveys of homeowners in foreclosure showed that 25-50% fell behind on their payments because of a medical crisis.  That means at least 1.5 million households are at risk of losing their homes each year thanks to the high costs of medical care. 

What’s astonishing is that most of the people who fell behind had insurance—but not enough to cover the full costs of their medical treatment.  A medical crisis isn’t something one can put off.  If you or a loved one breaks a leg, you go to the hospital. 

Health care also affects wages.  Take-home pay for most Americans hasn’t risen for nearly a decade.  Even if you were lucky enough to get a raise, the rising cost of insurance premiums almost always outpaced the additional income.  Health care costs have been rising by 6% each year, families now spend on average nearly $13,000 per year for their insurance. 

As reported in Americans for Democratic Action’s “Unhealthy Handouts for Health Care,” this staggering increase in cost hurts businesses as well as families.  The majority of Americans get insurance through their job--but now, because fewer businesses can afford to offer the benefit, they’re canceling it or passing the cost on to their employees.  We can’t compete internationally with other businesses when their governments offer publicly-funded health care—something only the U.S. doesn’t have, among all the industrialized countries in the world. 

Put that one simple fact in the context of today’s news: the Big 3 automakers could  save $1000 or more in overhead costs on every car they build just  by moving their plants across the border from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario because the Canadian government has a national health service that covers every citizen.  We need to level the playing field now or face further job losses as businesses outsource in order to survive.

There’s another problem with making our health care dependent on where we work.  When  times get tough – as they are now – and unemployment rises, millions more end up with no coverage.  Last year alone, more than 5,000,000 working people lost their jobs and were in danger of adding to the 47,000,000 who already lack insurance.  It’s simply unacceptable that access to medical care is dependent on having a job.  No one is safe in a bad economy.  Ask the people on Wall Street: two years ago they thought they were invincible.  Now they’re standing in unemployment lines like everyone else.

President Obama’s plan would tackle these issues.  He’d bring rising costs under control by creating true competition through a federal insurance program.  Health insurance would be portable so people wouldn’t lose coverage if they lost or switched jobs.  He’d also keep American businesses healthy and competitive by getting the most burdensome costs of health care off their books. 

The naysayers had it wrong all along.  The question isn’t can we afford to reform health care right now, but can we afford not to?

Richard Parker is President of Americans for Democratic Action

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