Dispel the myth of health care reform

Posted on Sun, Jul. 26, 2009 in the Kansas City Star
“No one said fixing health care in America would be easy.” The problem is enormous in scope and at the same time intensely personal. The nation’s economy, the federal deficit, state budgets and employers’ payrolls are all tied up in the health care system — not to mention Jane Doe’s timetable for retirement and John Doe’s latest blood pressure reading.

So wrangling on the part of Congress is to be expected.

Fortunately, reasonable people from different political camps agree on the pillars of reform: All Americans should have affordable access to care; costs must be controlled; and medicine must shift from a model that pays for procedures to one that rewards results.

As the debate wears on, however, a number of falsehoods stand in the way of achieving those goals. Here are a few:

America has the best health care in the world. Why change?

Actually, the U.S. has the most expensive health care system on the planet, and outcomes here are inferior to those of nearly all other modern nations.

The death rate among newborns here is among the highest of industrialized nations. Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes. A study that rated 19 relatively prosperous nations on their effectiveness in curbing deaths from preventable diseases put the United States at the very bottom.

Americans have access to care now — even if they have to use the emergency room.

Emergency room access is not comprehensive health care. Staffs can’t provide the follow-up care that will prevent a crisis from reoccurring. And the costs of treating the uninsured are passed along to everyone else.

And access to care is increasingly expensive for everyone. The average employee health insurance premium is rising nearly eight times faster than income. One in four of the Americans who participated in a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this year said they put off getting health care services because they couldn’t afford them. One in six reported cutting pills in half or skipping doses to make their prescriptions last longer.

President Obama wants to deny Americans the right to choose the treatment that’s best for them.

First of all, employers and insurers already separate patients from physicians and treatment options. Care already is “rationed.”

Any viable reform plan must set up a way to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments and procedures. In many cases, lower-cost treatments and medications work better than more expensive brands.

Citizens have a right to opt for more expensive options if they choose. But it is unreasonable to expect the health care system to pay for a gold-plated procedure if a less expensive avenue is available.

We can’t afford to reform health care.

We can’t afford not to. Medical costs account for one-sixth of domestic spending and are headed upward. They are handcuffing families and workers, and strangling federal and state governments.

Plans being considered by Congress present daunting up-front costs. But reform, done the right way, will mean savings for families and businesses — money that can be pumped into the economy.

Unfortunately, some Republicans seem content to stymie any Democratic plan on health care without putting forth any measures of their own.

“Why start diverting attention from this really bad piece of work (the Democrats’ plan)?” U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri asked last week, when suggesting GOP House members may not propose a health care bill.

Sorry, but Republicans don’t get off that easily. The default plan is the status quo, which, as Obama noted last week, is “guaranteed to double your premiums, cause more Americans to lose their coverage and create larger budget deficits over the next 10 years.”

Republican politicians must stop promoting the greatest myth of all: That somehow we will stumble into a system in which all Americans can have all the services they want, and no one will have to pay for it.

© 2009 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansascity.com

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