Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Decision near on health care

Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor have expressed doubts about Sen. Harry Reidís just-introduced health-care bill, which includes a so-called public option. The Arkansas Democrats are reluctant to align themselves with the Senate majority leaderís bill that seems too liberal to some of their constituents. But because the public option would allow states to drop out of the program if they donít like it, thereís still a chance Lincoln and Pryor will reluctantly join fellow Democrats in the next few weeks and throw their support behind a bill that will be the most comprehensive overhaul of our health-care system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid 45 years ago.

Both sides know thereís much at stake, and Republicans are continuing their rearguard action against reform. They will hold a rally Thursday in Little Rock.

A commercial financed by the Family Research Council recently went on the air that warns of supposed financial hardships that health-care reform would place on future generations. In the ad, a little boy is waved out of the door and sent off to work by his grandfather, who tells the kid he needs a paycheck to pay for his surgery.

The point the commercial tries to make is discredited by its own argument: health care will be so expensive in the future, children will be forced to work. But itís the children of baby boomers, and many baby boomers themselves, who are already in financial straits because of past policies with appalling consequences that younger generations are now seeing first-hand for themselves. Weíre already strained financially. Scare tactics wonít work on people who are struggling.

The agenda pushed through Congress in the last several years didnít help young people go to college or receive job training, or families meet vast health-care and mortgage payments or reduce waste in government services. Instead, those policies led the country into a financial meltdown.

The thousands of people bankrupted by medical bills have left the institutions that cared for them holding the bag. That results in job losses for the employees who work at those institutions and places a hardship on cities where those institutions are located at a loss. Before you know it, thereís health crisis across the country.

Reforming health-care costs that would contribute to a healthier work force would make America competitive globally, something we need now more than ever in history. Reform would also leave more money for other deserving sectors of the economy, such as infrastructure. The failure to guarantee the health of the American people for the past century, while just one small part of the fractured economy, has drained other parts of American society.

Attempts to remediate the problem, such as faith-based groups that provide free medical care to needy people, have eased some of the burden on those struggling to pay their bills. Just like individuals, local governments are also feeling the strain of an overburdened health system.

Hospitals are reporting that they must charge private insurers, and their clients, more for services because government payments are not high enough. Most hospitals are tax-exempt organizations, and that status should count as a government contribution to their bottom line.

There are other ways that health reform could contribute to hospitals and keep money in patientsí pocketbooks. Proponents of health-care reform have suggested that it would save money by insuring people when theyíre young, which would decrease costs by the time they become eligible for Medicare. If theyíre healthy when they are 65, cost for their health care will be substantially less.

Most of the bills under consideration in Congress include preventative care that is cheaper than emergency care. Health-care reform could save us billions of dollars over time and pour more money into a struggling economy because healthy people make for a more productive society.