Health Care – How did we get to this place?

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During the presidential campaigns last year, candidates for both major parties were clear and adamant about the need for health care reform.  The news media were filled with stories of people who were turned away from surgery because they had not revealed prior treatment for acne, or whose chronic sinus problems made them ineligible for cancer coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

Americans knew, a year ago, that we had a serious problem with health care.  And they wanted it fixed.

We knew, too, that health care costs were sky-rocketing so quickly that they were bankrupting us, individually and collectively.  If employers provide health care coverage, they have to charge more for the goods and services they provide, creating the terrible choice: pay lower wages, don’t provide health coverage, or lose in the competitive market place to products from nations with subsidized health plans.

Why does our health care cost so much? There are many reasons, but its structure is among them. Our insurance-based system pays to cure us when we are sick, but provides little or no coverage for proactive plans that would reduce obesity and smoking, improve diet, get us exercising.  We don’t pay for frequent visits for small things, with the result that we pay much more for the big problem that ultimately develops.

We all knew this a year ago.  And we knew that we had to do a major overhaul: changing any one part of the system would have effects on the others, so we needed to come up with a plan that would create a major shift.

How did we forget the things we knew and agreed upon? When did the desire to expand coverage for abortion – something we all know is hotly contested and seen in different lights – take on equal importance in anyone’s eyes with expanding coverage for basic services to nearly everyone?  When did the desire to protect our multi-faceted system of hundreds and thousands of different, independent insurance plans become more important than making sure that most people had some insurance plan?

We had an attempt to overhaul the already-ailing health system in the Clinton administration; politics did it in.  Since then, health costs have grown astronomically, access to health care for the poor has plummeted, Americans have lost ground in terms of longevity and health relative to other nations.  The need for reform is more evident now than it was then.  Yet we are still playing politics.

The bishops have been active supporters of the need for health care reform – and active critics of the attempt to use it as an excuse to push abortion funding through Congress.   Their position marks, in many ways, the common ground, the area of reform that receives widespread agreement.

I hope we don’t have to wait another 15 years before we finally see some improvement in health care access and coverage.  We’ve waited long enough.

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