Within the next few weeks, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, on which Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe sits, will finish crafting a bill to address our nation’s health care crisis. As the Finance Committee convenes to create a solution, now is the time for Maine residents to make their voices heard.
On March 17, I had the honor of representing Maine at the White House Regional Forum on Health Reform at the University of Vermont. The stories I heard from elected officials, physicians, health care executives and regular New Englanders vividly illustrated the depth and breadth of the health care crisis we face today and how it relates to our economic crisis.
The United States doesn’t actually have a health care “system.” Instead, we have a porous net of public and private programs that falls well short of providing quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans.
In his video address to the forum, President Obama made clear that if we’re going to fix our economy, we must fix health care. Skyrocketing health care costs have frozen workers’ wages, are crippling state budgets and are preventing any chance for economic recovery that can last. The president and Congress made a significant downpayment in the recently passed stimulus bill, but much work remains.
Any plan that they lay out should have eight primary principles to bring real reform to the system.
First, it must provide affordable and accessible coverage for all Americans. It is only to the benefit of our society as a whole, and to our economic solvency and advancement, to have healthy citizens.
Second, it must provide benefits that are equal to those available to our members of Congress.
Third, patients must be able to choose their own health care provider.
Fourth, employers, workers and government must share the costs associated with comprehensive coverage. Health coverage must be independent from employment in order to work for everyone.
Fifth, it must modernize the system by making record keeping, billing and reimbursement simplified for patients, our hospitals and physician offices.
Sixth, the plan should put in place a system to ensure that primary care is medically effective and cost-effective. We need to look at effective alternative forms of health care as a valued and viable piece of the whole health care system.
Seventh, it must expand benefits to allow a patient’s ability to access increased home-based long-term care. It costs us less to keep our seniors at home, and it is where they want to be for as long as they can be there safely and comfortably.
Most important to me personally, it must focus like a laser beam on creating incentives for comprehensive preventive care. Our system is hemorrhaging due to the costs of treating preventable diseases and conditions. It is absolutely imperative that we create real incentives for health habits and preventive check-ups and treatment, while discouraging and addressing unhealthful lifestyle choices and habits.
We achieve this by starting early — encouraging planned and healthy pregnancies, early prenatal care, and healthy births, and then supporting families through education, developmental promotion and screening and a healthy and solid nutrition foundation including the promotion of breastfeeding. We must create sound, publicly supported nutritional programs, such as WIC, for pregnant women and all children. We have to promote exercise through recess in our public schools, and deal head-on with tobacco, drug, substance and alcohol use by our young people.
For rural Mainers, the president’s budget expands access to quality care. He has already signed an appropriations bill that allotted $2.5 billion to rural health initiatives, including establishing state offices of rural health, grants for rural hospitals, community health centers and area health education centers.
The budget provides $73 million to improve both the access to and quality of health care in rural areas, strengthening regional and local partnerships among rural health care providers, expanding community-based prevention interventions, and promoting the modernization of the health care infrastructure in rural areas.
The longer we wait to address this crisis the worse it gets; more people lose health care coverage, our costs increase, and the drag on our economy grows. Piecemeal reform will not work; token Band-Aid measures can’t provide the combination of quality and cost-effectiveness critical to fixing health care in America.
We are each part of the solution to the national health care crisis. It is time now for each of us to step up, talk about what is important and support Congress and the Obama administration to achieve comprehensive health care reform for our country.
Susan Mackey Andrews of Dover-Foxcroft is the president of Solutions, a national consulting company helping states serve young children, especially those with developmental disabilities. She also serves on the Health Accountability Team of the Maine Children’s Growth Council.