We are not entirely sure if the current House bill is the right health care reform measure, but there is one thing we know for absolute certain: Health care reform is essential, and must be carried out sooner, rather than later.
Why? It’s a simple case of economics.
In 2010, according to last month’s study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), health care costs will rise by nine percent in that one year alone, and a good percentage of the costs will be passed on from employers to employees.
That figure is nearly four times the rate of inflation generally.
According to 500 employers surveyed by PwC, 42% will increase their workers' share of health care costs in 2010 and 41% said they would change the design of health care plans to increase medical cost sharing.
The National Coalition on Health Care’s study tells us that in 2008, health care spending in the United States reached $2.4 trillion, and was projected to reach $3.1 trillion in 2012. Health care spending is projected to reach $4.3 trillion by 2016. And some 47 million Americans - more than 15% of the population - have no health insurance at all, while the cost per capita, including the uninsured, is twice that of the next most expensive industrialized nation at nearly $7900 per year. This year, we will be spending 17% of our Gross Domestic Product on health care. More than 50% of all personal bankruptcies can be tied to medical issues.
We as consumers, and we as a nation, simply can’t afford the status quo any longer.
Experts agree that our health care system is riddled with inefficiencies, excessive administrative expenses, inflated prices, poor management, and inappropriate care, waste and fraud. These problems significantly increase the cost of medical care and health insurance for employers and workers and affect the security of families.
American health care is terrific for those who can best afford it, for whom there truly is no barrier between doctor and patient. For the rest of us, the broad middle of the population using employer-based health care coverage, we are too often subject to the vagaries of an HMO or managed care, where a plan administrator - not the doctor and certainly not the patient - is making binding health care decisions. Too often, patients lose their coverage if they lose their jobs, either because of the distressed economy or because they become too sick to work, and COBRA, the program that was supposed to protect workers who lose health coverage, is still far too expensive for the unemployed, even with recent government assistance.
And even with the outrageously expensive costs in the U.S., our medical outcomes are lower for standard metrics such as life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, and even five-year survival rates of many cancers, than all other industrialized nations, and many emerging economies as well. It is a terrible track record.
What about a public option? A public option will drive down costs, using strong-arm tactics to force insurance companies to do the right thing, lowering costs and improving outcomes while protecting their premium-payers from losing coverage altogether. The fact is, these companies believe it will drive down costs too - that’s why they’re fighting so hard against it. No doubt we have all heard their ominous drum beat of ‘impending socialized medicine’, one that will leave us without choices and will cause us to wait for life-saving treatments.
The truth is that all economies ration health care to one degree or another. While Canada chooses to ration its care based on the need of the patient (for instance, perhaps a three-month wait for elective knee replacement surgery), our current flawed system rations care on ability to pay. There are 47 million people in the U.S. - more than the entire population of our neighbor to the north - who will never get a knee replacement surgery, or any other elective procedure, or any care at all except emergency care, because they cannot afford it.
Perhaps the House bill represents quality, affordable health care; perhaps it is just a baby step in the right direction. Whichever it is, the time to start moving is now.