Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If health care reform fails, Congress fails Americans

Sweeping health care has a long and politically turbulent history since President Theodore Roosevelt talked of universal coverage in the early 1900s. Now, 100 years later, dramatic reforms to end the misery of 46 million uninsured Americans and seize control of runaway costs are at risk of political sabotage.

Opponents are relying on spurious arguments contrived largely by health insurance giants that fear controls would rein in profitable premium increases.

Most feared of all are less costly insurance alternatives that would create government-managed coverage and end the grip of private insurance companies.

To their shame, virtually every Republican in the U.S. Senate and House vowed to oppose the Democratic reforms. Compounding their duplicity, the GOP minority in Washington promised alternative legislation but never delivered.

So, the naysayers have dusted off the same, weary slogans and shibboleths trotted out over the past 100 years to yet again oppose a revival of reform—"socialized medicine," "too costly," "creating more bureaucracy."

President Obama is absolutely correct when he warns that if substantial reform fails this time, no future presidents are likely to try again for years.

Meanwhile, the crises will continue and grow—costs that now account for 16 percent of U.S. spending, costs soaring past $2.2 trillion per year; an unseemly toll of 122 deaths per day of people lacking health insurance and unable to find care; emergency rooms teeming with the uninsured in search of care; record costs without corresponding improvement in personal health.

The American health care scandal is also a moral scandal. An influential segment of the nation's political elite hearkens to the pressures of corporate patrons, rather than to the cries of Americans.

If Congress fails on this premier issue, consequences await the politicians for promising and not delivering.

But the most irreversible consequences will be the toll taken on the health of uninsured and poorly insured Americans, and on the costs that reform would have curtailed through better management, improved diagnostic systems and aggressive preventive medicine and wellness programs.

The 11th hour is at hand. Congress must meet its moral obligation to end the distress of tens of millions whose health has been put at risk by lost jobs and lost insurance coverage during catastrophic economic times not of their doing.

Americans' health needs deserve at least the same patriotic fervor that Congress shows when it funds military expeditions to protect the lives of citizens halfway around the world.

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