Leader Blues

Saturday, September 12, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Moving closer to real reform

The scope of the reaction to possible health-care changes should have been expected considering how many people in America have a relationship to the medical system. An active debate about governmentís role in our lives is after all a bastion of our countryís democracy, as President Obama said in his address to Congress on Wednesday night.

During his speech, the president enforced his role in shaping the reform debate when he weighed in on the dispute. Much of his speech was dedicated to refuting untruths that have entered into public perception about proposed reforms. The callow views that have inspired those deceptions persisted even as the president spoke, when Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina jeered him.

Instead of responding with similar unpleasantness, Obama took the opportunity to invite to the bargaining table those who have been perpetuating myths in an attempt to block reform. Theyíve been allowing the spread of lies while the partisan divide stalls Congress. Many of those who have encouraged myths of rationed care, which insurance companies practice, and death panels must be fortunate enough never to have experienced the loss of insurance or inability to pay for medical care even as most bankruptcies are caused by unaffordable medical bills.

Health care is a doubly tumultuous issue because people who are forced to deal with their or their childrenís illnesses must take on the additional stress of paying inordinate sums of money for it.

Because so many people are unable to afford adequate care, broad and even unexpected coalitions have formed, from business groups and the AARP to the alignment of religious conservatives with the health insurance industry.

The Liberty Counsel is one such group. Churches and religious talk radio hosts are using the organizationís talking points as a rallying cry for opposition to health-care changes, many of which the president sought to discredit during his address to Congress.

The group, whose aims include preservation of family values, is unnerved by the prospect of a small part of the health care package that would allow government to make decisions of the delivery of care that insurers now make.

Other points of the group hone in on the beliefs of religious people by preying on their fears of population control through fallacies such as the creation of a child- limit law.

Reticence abounds but the problem remains as simple as it was a century ago: people are dying or staying sick because of lack of good care. Illness is costing more to our economy than it has to. Itís that way because emergency care is more profitable to the health-care industry than preventive care.

Hospitals are struggling because they have to subsidize care through charity programs which also rely on tax dollars for support because as a country, we can afford to help the poor. If we refused, many would lose their jobs if they were unable to receive health care at emergency rooms when they get sick. The cost to the public is enormous but our money isnít being put to good use.

Even more waste results when preventive health-care needs are not met. That waste results in loss to the gross domestic product every year because our work force is not getting adequate health care to keep it competitive.

The National Business Group on Health, which represents employers, believes $150 billion a year is spent on obesity-related illness. As managed care works now, doctors are not reimbursed for education that could teach obese patients how to change their lifestyle habits and be healthier.

Preventive education, and screenings for illness, should occur before health problems develop into expensive crises including heart attacks and strokes.

President Obama hasnít plowed ahead with such ideas as the promotion of preventive care without first consulting the minor or major players alike. He demonstrated Wednesday night that he has a clear understanding of the health-care systemís problems and solutions needed to repair them. Heís gifted with the ability of understanding complex problems.

He straightforwardly explained to Congress and the American people the health-care systemís failings despite pressure from his critics, whom he seems intent on finding agreement with.

The president can repeatedly offer compromises but he will be rebuffed. The opposing party will stick to condemnation, hoping it will squash momentum without offering their own solutions to problems plaguing the health-care system.

If the resounding welcome the president received when he entered the joint session is a sign, Congress shouldnít have much more trouble getting health-care legislation passed this year. For more than five minutes, he was met with straight applause and cheers from senators and representatives.

President Obamaís health-care strategy exemplifies democracy: Let the Senate and the House craft a bill as is their duty in the legislative process. The president has proven his dedication to reforming health care through his willingness to compromise and seek bipartisanship on disputed reforms. But ultimately, it isnít the presidentís job to coalesce congressional personalities.