Health Care Reform, Soon

Posted July 21, 2009, at 6:17 p.m.

Inflammatory comments politicizing the health care debate are certainly not helpful, but they shouldn’t detract from the nearly round-the-clock bipartisan negotiations that are taking place in Congress. Behind the scenes, lawmakers from both parties on several committees are working on the details — mainly financial — of health care reform legislation.

Details are important, but so too is finishing legislation before the 2010 midterm election campaigns gain steam, making it more difficult for lawmakers to compromise, a necessity for passing comprehensive reform legislation.

Jim DeMint, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, was clearly looking ahead to that election when he discussed strategy during a recent conference call.

“If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo,” Sen. DeMint said last week. “It will break him.”

President Obama responded with this: “This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses, and breaking America’s economy.”

He’s absolutely right. Hardly anyone outside the health care industry says that the status quo is acceptable. The United States has among the highest health care expenditures in the world while having the 37th best outcomes. Spending twice as much as countries like Canada and France for a popu-lation that is less healthy is ludicrous. So, too, is saddling businesses with health care expenses that eat up money that could be spent on job creation and expansion. In the Bangor area, for example, one business with 35 employees pays $244,260 annually in health insurance for its workers.

The U.S. devotes 17 percent of gross domestic product to health care, twice that of most developed countries. Despite this expense, nearly 50 million people lack health insurance and a growing number of personal bankruptcies are the result of medical expenses.

So while the $1 trillion price tag now associated with a health care system overhaul seems huge, there are large and growing costs associated with our current system. Health care expenditures are expected to continue to rise faster than inflation and personal income growth, not a recipe for eco-nomic prosperity.

With this is mind, a group of six senators — three Republican and three Democrat — last week said they were committed to reform and urged Senate leaders to ensure a bipartisan health care fix. “While we are committed to providing relief for American families as quickly as possible, we believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical for legislation that affects 17 percent of our economy and every individual in the U.S.,” the senators, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, wrote.

A good outcome would be for the Senate Finance Committee, of which Sen. Snowe is a member, to approve a bill before the August recess. This would give lawmakers solid legislation to discuss with their constituents while mooting criticism that reform is akin to socialism or will ruin the econ-omy.

Much work remains to be done on the legislation, but the commitment from lawmakers from both parties to meet daily to seek agreement on reform is encouraging and, despite obstructionists like Sen. DeMint, should yield important improvements.

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