In The Ring: How should U.S. health care be reformed?

Nation divided over health care reforms in Congress

By: Nathan Smith 

     Health care reform is one of the hottest topics in the country and one of the most hotly debated questions.  With the latest bill for health care reform now cleared by the Senate Finance Committee, it will continue on through the same processes that all bills must undertake to be ratified.  If the highly controversial reforms are passed, it will mean that the US government will offer a more public insurance option, working towards the health care systems that many other world powers already use.

     It’s the proverbial boxing match of the century, with the Republicans in one corner, wanting nothing to do with the bill; and the Democrats in the opposite corner, believing that this will be one of the most critical milestones in US history.  There are those who believe that the health care reform will cut America loose from the ties that bind it to the troubles of an unsteady job market and unaffordable health insurance. However, there are also those who believe that this bill will only cost Americans more money, and threaten their freedoms in the long run.

     While the lawmakers have tried several times to change the course of health care, this battle is turning out to be the defining moment in the long battle for health care reform. Unlike First Lady Hilary Clinton’s failed attempts in the 90’s, this new health care bill stands a chance of affecting a huge majority of the American public. Even the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s 15 separate appeals for universal health care, in his 47 year political career, were unable to affect this kind of broad spectrum reform. It appears that this is the make-or-break moment of a decades long crusade for American health care reforms.

     From rising costs, pre-existing conditions, and limited access to health care, most agree that the system needs reform.  The question is what to reform and at what cost.  Our staff reporters debate how health care should be reformed . . . In The Ring!

In the corner on the right…

By: Amberly Tabor

     Each and every day, the hot topic of health care reform is being discussed.  Though there has been widespread media coverage over the Democrat’s proposed health care bill, H.R.3200, little has been said in the news about the more than 30 bills that were proposed by the Republicans. Obama has repeatedly invited “serious” health care proposals with “open arms”, and the Republicans have responded many times. The media is not covering or explaining these proposals, so most don’t even know they exist.

     When opening H.R.3200 from the Government Printing Office site, a warning message appears and reads, “This bill is very large, and loading it may cause your web browser to perform sluggishly, or even freeze.” A bill should be easily available to the public, without freezing your computer due to its hefty bulk.

     The Congressional Budget Office web site provides cost estimates for bills. Regarding H.R.3200, they estimated that if put in effect, the bill would raise deficits by 1,042 billion dollars over the 2010-2019 period. In a poll conducted by the New York Times, which 1050 random people participated in, 46 percent believed that it was possible to provide health care coverage for most Americans without increasing the budget deficit. They also project that the number of non elderly people without health insurance would be reduced by 37 million, leaving about 17 million high and dry. This bill is not cost-effective, and is inadequate for assisting the people of the United States in their struggles with health care.

     As the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi has the power to set the legislative agenda. With this power, she has managed to block all attempts to get the bills proposed by Republicans on the floor for debate. The bills that have been proposed include many new ideas that could doctor the current health care system.  These include promoting disease prevention, simplification of the current system, proposing new tax credits, reforming Medicare and Medicaid, altering medical litigation processes and providing more visibility to available services for the average American.

     Promoting wellness and preventing chronic disease are prominently stated as the first key initiative in the Patients’ Choice Act of 2009. Investments in healthy lifestyle habits and disease prevention will reduce health costs and improve the lives of all Americans. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, contribute to 75 percent of our total health care expenditures. Such diseases are thought to be preventable through a healthy lifestyle, and would be reduced through such a proposal, therefore minimizing our annual health care expenditures.

     Health care needs to be accessible and affordable. Currently, the system is difficult to navigate and not very equitable. Health care policies should be flexible to meet the individual’s needs. In order to facilitate the decision making process, these choices need to be clearly defined and accessible to everyone, regardless of age or health.  These affordable choices should also be available to those with pre-existing conditions, and there should be protections in place so that they are not cost prohibitive. 

     Currently, the income tax code is slanted towards benefitting the wealthy and those having access to employer-based insurance policies. There is a need to expand tax credits for those who are self-employed, unemployed and to small business owners who have to purchase their own insurance policies. 

     Medicaid and Medicare are policies put into place to protect low income families and American seniors. These programs require massive changes because they are failing to provide efficient services. Better coordination of benefits is needed to protect the recipients and give them access to quality health care. Long term care services should provide patients with a choice of home based care or institutional care.

    Medical litigation is also a source of inequality and expense. Malpractice insurance paid by our medical professionals has reached all time highs, and this hinders the providers’ ability to give quality care. The legal system forces doctors and patients to resolve their disputes in our court systems, and these disputes could be more efficiently and equitably resolved by the establishment of medical review panels or medical courts. 

     What defines affordable and quality care needs to be up to the private sector.  Consumers need the information visible to them so that they can be aware of the cost and quality of services before making their health choices. This could be facilitated by a Health care Services Commission, which would maintain a relationship between the private and public sector to publish and enforce quality and price information.

     According to the New York Times poll, mentioned above. More people were concerned that if the health care reform occurs, quality of their own health care will get worse, treatment will become limited, they will have to change doctors, health care costs will go up and taxes will increase. In fact, the majority of the people polled thought that only fundamental and minor changes were required to fix the health care system, and only 20 percent of the people polled were Republican.

    The assumptions that all Democrats believe in installing a universal health care system, and that Republicans are not working with the Democrats to solve our health care dilemmas, are both wrong. In order to fix our financial and medical problems, both sides need to stop pointing fingers at each other, blaming everyone but ourselves for our problems. The government is not the ultimate cause. We, as Americans, contribute a great amount by not paying attention to what’s happening in the world, and even our own country. There have been signs of an economic downfall and medical problems for years that we never paid attention to until recently, when our grave became too deep to climb out of.

     It’s not going to be easy to improve the health care system, but it will become possible if both sides come together and compromise on a solution. The youth in America have been glorified as the “savior generation,” yet we are the most oblivious generation so far. It will take years to fully form the system into a well-oiled machine, but we can improve the lives of Americans if we simply get involved, vote for what we believe in.

In the corner on the left…

By: Natalie Herzig

     Let me first say that there are many misconceptions about Obama’s new health care plan. Some believe that Obama’s plan is designed to kill off those pesky senior citizens. Others believe our hard earned money will go towards insuring illegal aliens, and many believe that the government is trying to take over private businesses of the United States with a plan that is unnecessary to a country with the highest quality of health care. To this I have one thing to say—you lie!

     Almost one hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt proposed a health care reform. Since then, almost every proceeding politician has tried to address the issue in some manner. Some people who don’t understand what the problems of the health care system are insist that we are lucky to have one of the best health care institutions in the world. I hate to burst your bubble, but that simply is not the case. In most lists (based on response time, quality of care, how often patients must return for the same issue), the United States has the 32nd   best health care in the world. Yes, 32nd. We consider ourselves to be the most advanced nation on the earth, certainly one of the wealthiest, yet as President Obama says, “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 are at a huge disadvantage.” In the World Health Organization’s rankings, the United States is 37th, behind nations like Morocco, Cyprus and Costa Rica. Finishing first and second were France and Italy. Our system is riddled with tax manipulation, costly insurance mandates and bureaucratic interference. Most important, six out of seven health-care dollars are spent by third parties, which means that most consumers exercise no cost-consciousness.

     These days, more Americans have to worry that if they change jobs, or lose their job, they will lose their health insurance too. In this recession, this is a threat for more and more Americans. In fact, 14,000  Americans lose their coverage every day. Today one in every three Americans go without health coverage at some point. More Americans pay premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage, or won’t pay the full cost of care when they get sick.

     Obama’s plan focuses on three main goals: It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance for those who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. And the great news is if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, or Medicaid, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Many feared that Obama’s new plan would radically attempt to build a new system from the bottom up, changing the blueprints of a system that is functional, though severely flawed.  Obama choose the middle road. He realized that we need to improve upon the existing foundation of our health care system. Instead of starting from scratch, we will change what needs to be fixed. Because if we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined.

     In Obama’s health care speech, he talks about a man who was in the middle of chemotherapy when his health insurance company suddenly decided to drop him. He had not reported a case of gall stones that he didn’t even know about and before he could fight back. He died. In our health care system, insurance companies are “not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill, they are rewarded for it.” In 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90 percent is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and quality goes down.

     Many today even live without insurance. These are not the poor, but middle-class Americans. Some have employers who cannot afford to insure them. Others are self-employed, and can’t afford it themselves, since buying insurance on your own typically costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or too expensive to cover. Under this system, your insurance company can drop you at the time when you need them the most.

     Obama’s plan will make it against the law to drop or reduce someone’s coverage while they are sick. It will remove the cap of how much care we can receive. It will place a limit on how much we have to pay out of pocket, and give almost everyone in America an opportunity to have quality, affordable health care. It is estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system, a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care don’t make us any healthier. The plan will also not add to our deficit. The middle class will realize greater security, not higher taxes. And if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of 1 percent each it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term. The real question in this debate is: can we afford not to?