As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We Can't Wait For Health Care Reform

We have the most expensive health care in the world and not nearly the most effective. Health care spending is now almost 18% of the entire economy, and costs an average of $8,160 for every man, woman and child in the country. Some of this is because of how poorly Americans eat and how high a percentage of the population is obese. But for the most part, we have soaring costs because we now have 48 million uninsured, providing a hidden tax on insurance premiums and crippling state and federal budgets. As the uninsured rise in this slowing economy, the prediction is that health care spending will rise to $13,100 per person by 2018. One out of every three of those dollars go to a giant insurance industry that does little to improve treatment and takes away dollars that practically no other country on Earth spends.

Thanks to President Obama, that uninsured number will decrease through the expansion of SCHIP. And the comparative effectiveness testing in the federal stimulus, along with funding for health information technology and electronic medical records, will begin the long process of controlling costs and reducing the influence of both pharmaceuticals and the medical device industry. But that's a drop in the bucket. This report again signals the urgent need for comprehensive health care reform. When Obama's budget wizards talk about how health care reform is entitlement reform, these are the raw numbers behind that conclusion.

The best way to do this is clearly by moving to a single-payer system that reduces inefficiency and delivers health care in the simplest way possible, removing corporate greed and middlemen from the process. There are a number of different strategies used worldwide for national health care; the only benefit to our current state is that we can pick and choose from all of these strategies as we adapt them to this country. It should not be a question of allowing a public option in a comprehensive system; it should be a question of allowing a private option in a public system. And we all know that.

However, Obama's program, as well as many of the various Congressional plans kicking around, aren't essentially single payer (though the President has recently considered lowering the Medicare eligibility to 55, and a robust public option in competition with insurers still appears in all plans). They should be debated in public and in full, with maximum effort by all advocacy groups. And in the end, we should be mindful that anything arresting costs quickly will have benefits for the federal budget and overall health. We need a bill this year, and this report adds to the urgency. There's no longer any ability to wait while millions more lose their coverage and costs spiral out of control.

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