Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Health Care Issue Won’t Go Away

The now-or-never urgency that some political organizers feel about health care reform is misplaced. So is the all-out effort by the health insurance industry to kill any specific reform measure. This is an issue that, whether any action is taken or not, will not be going away.

As Dr. Andrew Weil has noted in a series of recent posts, even the most supposedly comprehensive reform that might be considered is only a stopgap measure. Real reform has to address the cost of medical services, an issue that is being distorted in the debate over access to medical care. It also has to address the quality of medical care. People recognize that as an important issue, even as they push it aside to debate other issues that are more urgent. But it’s not an issue that can be ignored indefinitely. As Weil puts it:

It’s not a health care system at all; it’s a disease management system, and making the current system cheaper and more accessible will just spread the dysfunction more broadly.

Those who advocate a single-payer system as the solution to everything should note that the United Kingdom is debating these issues anew this year — and the United Kingdom has had a single-payer system for longer than the United States has had an employer-paid health insurance system.

On the other hand, if nothing is done to reform health coverage this year, or if the Blue Dog Coalition plan or any other extremely expensive but ineffectual compromise is enacted, the insurance companies will not have driven a stake through the heart of former Democratic National Committee chair and longtime health care advocate Howard Dean, as one commentator suggested. They will only have lived to fight again next year. By then, another 1 million people will have seen the insurance companies cancel their individual or family insurance policies, and perhaps 4 million will have lost their employer-paid plans. Already, less than half of Americans support the health insurance system in its current form, so as that system kicks out several million customers per year, it is undercutting its own base of political support.

Regardless of what happens this year, the health care problem will not be solved, and more action will be needed. At the rate we are going, this is an issue we will need to address again every year for the next 10 years.