Friday, July 24, 2009

Getting It Right

By most accounts, Democrats do not have the votes necessary to ramrod this much-debated health legislation through the US House. Strangely enough, it is the Democratic “Blue Dogs” who are putting up most of the resistance (I wonder where these “fiscally conservative” Dogs were when the $787 billion stimulus package was rushed through the Congress with few questions or challenges?) who, along with Republicans, are concerned about the long-range financial and economic impact this legislation might have. Rep. Mike Ross, D-AR, maintains that it is more important that the Congress get this “right” rather than “quick”. Better late than never, I suppose, Mr. Ross.

Most would agree the need exists to provide a buffer to those who cannot afford adequate health care, but I cannot agree that permanent government health insurance is the way to go. In fact, the nation pretty much put a stop to such thinking in the early days of the Clinton administration when the Congress and the people saw little more than a brand-new government agency that could (and probably would) quickly grow out of control. And given that Medicare and Medicaid are both facing tremendous challenges just to stay afloat and the VA with a less-than-impressive score card (depending, of course, on who is doing the scoring), these three government entities do not exactly instill voter confidence in the government’s ability to provide such an overreaching service, let alone administer it efficiently or effectively.

Still, the debate has lost its focus. Ultimately, we are talking about access to adequate health care and not affordable health insurance, even if health insurance is the primary vehicle by which many have access to adequate health care. We must not confuse the two, however, because they are two separate issues. That 45 million Americans lack health insurance (a dubious, if unqualified, number) does not mean that our health care system cannot provide reasonable, adequate, and needed care. It may mean that we should approach this issue from another angle, especially in light of the $1 trillion deficit this nation already faces (which means the government cannot pay its bills). And this deficit will only get worse because government spending is increasing at an alarming rate, and jobs in this country are still being eliminated at a rate of roughly 500,000 per month (June was 554,000). These are formerly tax-paying citizens who are losing their jobs; this is revenue the government can never hope to recover. And to add to the current debate and existing problem, a substantial percentage of these 554,000 citizens likely just lost whatever health insurance they may have had through their former employers. COBRA is little help since the former employee is only guaranteed coverage IF he or she can afford to pay the entire premium. The problem continues to multiply as long as the US economy continues to eliminate jobs on such a grand scale.

There is a reordering of priorities that has become necessary if confidence is to be restored in the Congress and the entire legislative process. Right now the Democrats are acutely aware that mid-terms elections are just around the corner. The waning popularity of the Democratic president could spell trouble for the Democratic majority in the Congress in general, and for Democratic members of Congress from traditionally conservative states and districts. What this means is that moving too quickly on health-related legislation is dangerous for the nation as a whole because politicians from both sides will be too busy worrying about election campaigns than to be bothered with such trivial nonsense as doing what is right for the nation as a whole.

Rather than attempt to revamp the entire health-care industry at this critical moment, perhaps it might be best to begin incrementally with such stop-gap measures as expanded Medicaid coverage for those who have lost jobs. Yes, it will mean spending more money, but it will be a far sight less than the projected $1.6 trillion the proposed legislation is projected to cost, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and will not require another “czar” or level of bureaucracy. And by its very nature, this expansion can be made temporary, with a defined benefit period as with unemployment insurance, rather than to become a permanent fixture of the US government. Such a stop-gap, emergency measure could then help the Congress to focus on THE most important matter at hand: creating an environment with policies that will encourage business expansion and ultimately provide new jobs. More incentives could actually encourage employers to continue offering health insurance coverage, and the government would get back the money it “lost” in corporate income taxes by way of personal income taxes paid by folks making their own way.

There are countless ways the Congress can actually help besides simply thinking up new campaign slogans or overwhelming us with legislation few can even comprehend. Now is not the time for the government to expand its reach lest we wake up one morning and discover who actually answers to whom.

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