Scotty (the “R” stands for “Republican”) Rassmussen is out there today with one of his infamous polls that touts the republican party-line on healthcare reform, based on research he conducted and cited, telling us that all the talk of reform has accomplished over the last year is that now more people have a better opinion of the American healthcare system than they had last year when the reform talk started. That’s right. Approval of our totally effed up system by the very people who are harmed by it, is, according to Scotty R, 44%, whereas last year it was 35%.
People who, at present, have decent coverage (or at least believe they do, because they have never actually used it for anything requiring hospitalization) have been frightened into believing that if the system is reformed to help the people who are uninsured or underinsured, they risk losing what they have.
Problem is, doing nothing will absolutely not preserve what they have now. Doing nothing is the surest way to raise the risk that they lose what they have.
Suppose Congress and President Obama fail to overhaul the system now, or just tinker around the edges, or start over, as the Republicans propose – despite the Democrats’ latest and possibly last big push that began last week at a marathon televised forum in Washington.
Then “my health care” stays the same, right?
Far from it, health policy analysts and economists of nearly every ideological persuasion agree. The unrelenting rise in medical costs is likely to wreak havoc within the system and beyond it, and pretty much everyone will be affected, directly or indirectly.
“People think if we do nothing, we will have what we have now,” said Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health care research group in New York. “In fact, what we will have is a substantial deterioration in what we have.”
Nearly every mainstream analysis calls for medical costs to continue to climb over the next decade, outpacing the growth in the overall economy and certainly increasing faster than the average paycheck. Those higher costs will translate into higher premiums, which will mean fewer individuals and businesses will be able to afford insurance coverage. More of everyone’s dollar will go to health care, and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid will struggle to find the money to operate.
Policy makers, in the end, may be forced to address the issue.
“It will break all of our banks if we do nothing,” said Peter V. Lee, who oversees national health policy for the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents employers that offer coverage to workers. “It is a course that is literally bankrupting the federal government and businesses and individuals across the country.”
Do nothing, and guarantee another decade of stagnating wages as rising premiums eat up the profits of businesses that continue to provide benefits. The number of the uninsured will grow by leaps and bounds as smaller businesses and people who buy individual policies are priced out of the market – how many 39% increases in premiums could you withstand if your wages are stagnant? “We have an affordability problem that is moving up through the middle class now,” said Paul B. Ginsburg, the president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonprofit research group based in Washington D.C.
While estimates vary, the number of people without insurance is expected to increase by more than a million a year, said Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a Washington consumer advocacy group that favors the Democrats’ approach. The Urban Institute, for example, predicts that the number of uninsured individuals will increase from about 49 million today to between 57 million and 66 million by 2019. The Democrats’ plan is expected to cover as many as 30 million individuals who now are uninsured.
There will be a cost in lives, too. Mr. Pollack’s organization estimates that as many as 275,000 people will die prematurely over the next 10 years because they do not have insurance. Even people with insurance will find their coverage providing much less protection from financial catastrophe than it does now. Individuals will pay significantly more in deductibles and co-payments, for example. “More and more families will experience huge debts and bankruptcies,” Mr. Pollack said.
Federal and state governments will also feel the squeeze. Medicare, the federal program for the elderly, is already the subject of much hand-wringing as its spending balloons. Medicaid, a joint program of the federal government and the states, is already struggling as states try to balance budgets hit hard by the economic downturn. Many states may be forced to cut benefits sharply as well as reduce financing for community health centers and state hospitals that serve the poor.
“I think we’ll just see the decline of public services,” said John Holahan, the director of the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
The cost of doing nothing is simply too great. It harms us at every level of society and it makes our businesses less competitive because businesses that are based in nations that have a civilized healthcare policy don’t have to figure the cost of healthcare for employees into what they charge for their products. And yes, I realize they pay taxes, but I also know they don’t double as a percentage of the cost of doing business every ten years.
Pass. The. Damn. Bill.