The pertinent facts about the status of health care in this country should have been ample evidence to persuade Congress and the American people that ‘kicking the can down the road’ for another few years is not befitting, as President Barack Obama told the nation in a joint speech to Congress last Thursday, of our national character.
It is in the American character, the president reminded us all, to address the tough issues and to rally around those in need.
Many Americans understand the country is facing a crisis with a health care system that lets millions of Americans live, as the president said, an accident away from bankruptcy because they cannot afford health care insurance. Even the millions of Americans who do have insurance understand the heavy burden it places on their own pocketbooks and on employers. They understand that when insurance costs go up an average of 10 percent year, while wages typically increase a third of that, that employers and employees are on the losing end of a perilous trend. And they understand that the system is broken when insurance companies can dictate whom they want to cover and whom they don’t, leaving millions without affordable options because of pre-existing medical conditions.
They were probably shocked to hear that 14,000 Americans lose their health care coverage every day — that’s every day — and they understand they could be in those same shoes at any time. And, as the president said, “more and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won’t pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.”
To suggest, as those who would kick the can down the road for another year or two do, that there is no crisis is to turn away from the reality facing far too many of our fellow Americans. To do nothing is a failure of character, of empathy and of leadership.
Americans should ponder that and ask themselves what the Republican Party — that group that has tried to sabotage any progress on health care reform for the past several months — did to promote health care reform while President Bush was in office. They should ask themselves why, suddenly, are Republicans chiding a Democratic plan and suggesting they have a better idea — when for eight years they stood in positions of power and offered nothing, except to kick the can down the road and put more and more Americans at risk of financial insolvency and medical peril.
The answer is simple: Making progress on health care reform is not a priority for the GOP; indeed, one might suppose that keeping it as an issue to fight against is part of the party’s political strategy as they can demonize their opponents for the inevitable high costs, while ignoring the higher costs of doing nothing. They can promote fear and uncertainty — two emotions that they have become experts at exploiting.
Americans might also ask themselves how we, as a nation, are better served by a system that places so many citizens in daily jeopardy — where they can be employed and healthy one day, then suffer an accident or illness and lose everything they have (homes, income, savings) to exorbitant health care costs — when better options are demonstrated around the world?
“We are the only advanced democracy on Earth – the only wealthy nation – that allows such hardships for millions of its people,” the president reminded the nation. “There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two-year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point ... We spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren’t any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages. It’s why so many employers – especially small businesses – are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely. It’s why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally – like our automakers – are at a huge disadvantage.”
Those are the indisputable facts. There is no hype, no conservative radio shock-jock trying to stir up unnecessary fear. Just the sobering facts.
Those facts should be enough to inspire action.
The president led the way last week; the Democrats in Congress are ready to follow and move the nation forward. The question remains whether the Republican Party will continue its role as “the party of no,” or come to the table with ideas to help create a better health care system for all Americans.
We hope it is the latter. We’ll soon see.