Editorial

Hope and health

House-passed health care reform faces obstacles in the Senate, but there's ample room for compromise.

November 10, 2009 

Do those United States senators who have pronounced the health care reform package approved by the House as "dead on arrival" in the Senate, as one of them put it, really want their legacy on this issue to be that they stopped it? Contrary to what their deep-pocket supporters in the profitable segments of the health insurance and drug industries are saying, such a stance would be not just selfish, but unwise, shortsighted and yes, inhumane.

At least, that's likely to be the view of those whose premiums have skyrocketed, or those who find coverage difficult to obtain because they are dealing with chronic illness, or those who have to choose between medicine and food, or those who rely on emergency room care because they don't have insurance.

Opposition is not likely to draw cheers, either, from doctors who have their directions on care disputed by insurers, or from those millions of people knocked off their feet by the recession and suffering the end of employer-provided supplements for insurance.

The number of Americans who have seen insurance benefits decrease as premiums increase is going up. Also rising are overall health care costs, to individuals, institutions and the government (meaning taxpayers). In other words, one thing that's known for certain about maintaining the status quo of the health care system in this country is that it's going to become much more expensive.

The House measure isn't perfect, but it would result in an expansion of coverage opportunities to 96 percent of the American people, it would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, it would offer people more insurance choices, and it would provide more oversight of the insurance industry that has long had too much control over this nation's health care. It is a good bill and it deserves serious consideration and debate in the Senate, where reform faces a steeper hill.

A sticking point is the portion of the House measure that would put a government-run insurance option in the mix. But contrary to what the health insurance industry is saying, the government plan would compete on the same level as private companies. Indications are that it would likely be an option for a few million people, not a federal takeover of insurance. It would, of course, be a competitor for private insurers, which those insurers do not like.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, says he won't allow a government option health plan to come to a vote in his chamber. Lieberman may hold a crucial swing vote. Still, that is a preposterous and arrogant thing for him to say. It is the job of Congress to serve the people. That means debate. That means trying to arrive at a solution, not setting up a stalemate.

And there is room for compromise. It wasn't so long ago that health care reform looked doomed. Then Democrats in the House (Republicans have an approach that comes up woefully short of addressing the need) worked out their bill, making some compromises to attract support from the party's center.

Senators can do the same. Warnings about the cost of reform, and it is expensive, are balanced by the estimates of the Congressional Budget Office (not a player in partisan politics) that the House plan might well result in a slight lowering of the federal deficit. Surely not all costs can be predicted. But not all savings can be predicted, either.

The system is broken. Even insurance company representatives acknowledge reform is needed, though their first priority is protecting their bottom lines. More and more Americans have been stung by glitches in the system, be they denial of coverage or escalating drug prices and co-pays.

Rather than carve a place in history that makes them the killers of reform, senators should open their minds and their ears and seek to be the ones who saved it.

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