Saturday, November 6, 2010

Health Care Reform and the New Congress

The fight over health care reform continues in post-election Congress, as comments from President Obama and from Rep. John Boehner, who will probably become the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, make clear. This week, Kaiser Health News published a transcript of news conference comments that show the divisions between Boehner and Obama over the future of health care reform.

With so many of their constituents concerned about unemployment, Boehner and the Republicans say that the current plan for health care reform is too expensive to implement now. The Republicans have said that their primary goal over the next two years is blocking the implementation of health reform and other agenda items, and unseating Obama in the next presidential election.
Boehner, who called health reform a "monstrosity," said:
I believe that the health care bill that was enacted by the current Congress will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world, and bankrupt our country. That means that we have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common-sense reforms that'll bring down the cost of health insurance.
Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats see substantive health reform as a moral obligation that is worth the investment. Obama explained:
I don't think that if you ask the American people, should we stop trying to close the doughnut hole that will help our senior citizens get prescription drugs, should we go back to a situation where people with preexisting conditions can't get health insurance, should we allow insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick even though you've been paying premiums -- I don't think that you'd have a strong vote for people saying those are provisions I want to eliminate.

Republicans who argue that health reform is too expensive tend to ignore the costs of letting the current health insurance system stand. Commonwealth Fund blogger Louise Probst argues that health care has both direct and indirect costs for Americans. Health insurance now averages over $14,000 for a family of four, Probst wrote. "Other leading nations spend half or less of what we do on health care," she wrote, "making it increasingly difficult for American families to retain their standard of living and for American businesses to compete in a global economy." Furthermore, "all Americans pay the nation's health care bill indirectly by way of lower wages, higher taxes, and health benefit costs embedded in the price of non-health-care goods."

Which argument will win: fiscal restraint and job creation, or moral imperative and long-term investment? The outcome will become clear by the next Presidential election.

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