Washington, DC — How’s this for a health care plan? It will make your premiums go up—in fact, it will double health costs over the next ten years. It will strip millions of Americans of their coverage. It will send our deficit through the roof.
That, as President Obama recently pointed out, is the health care plan we choose by doing nothing. That is the status quo, and it will be the health care plan we end up with if health insurance reform fails.
And although no one will come out and argue for a plan that doubles costs and cuts coverage, we are being pushed in just that direction by transparent attempts to kill reform for partisan gain. As one Republican Senator put it, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Another said this about efforts to cover millions more Americans: “We can stall it. And that’s going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election.”
Failure to reform health care might be a boon for some members of Congress, but it would be a disaster for middle-class families, for the 47 million uninsured Americans, and for small businesses across America.
That’s why Democrats are working hard to get a health care bill to President Obama’s desk this fall. The details of that bill are still under strong debate—which is healthy considering the historic challenge we face. But Democrats are unshakably committed to four driving principles: health insurance stability, affordability, quality, and patient choice.
First, we are working to bring stable coverage and peace of mind to every American. No longer will insurance companies be allowed to deny you coverage because they consider you to have a pre-existing condition like pregnancy, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. No longer will medical bills be a source of personal bankruptcy. No longer will you be forced to make job and life choices based on fear of losing health coverage. And no longer will tens of millions without insurance be forced to put off the preventive care they need, while the rest of us pay to subsidize their care—at about $1,100 per average family premium, each year.
Second, the Democratic plan has the power to reverse the cost inflation that has more than doubled premiums since 2000, while wages have stood still. Cost-saving measures will include the bargaining power of a public insurance option, an end to Medicare co-pays or deductibles for preventive care that keeps patients healthier for the long-term, research to help doctors and patients make informed choices, and electronic medical records that will make it easier for doctors to collaborate. Seniors will see an end to the notorious Medicare Part D “donut hole,” which leaves those with between $2,700 and $6,100 per year in prescription drug expenses without Medicare support. And small businesses will find it easier to afford coverage for their employees, putting them on fairer footing against competitors overseas.
Third, the Democratic plan will mean higher-quality health care. Right now, America pays nearly twice as much for health care per capita as any other industrialized country, without getting better health outcomes in return. In other words, higher quality health care isn’t a matter of spending more money—it’s a matter of spending smarter. That’s why many of the same measures that will bring down costs can also mean better health care for all of us. For instance, electronic records will mean fewer deadly errors, and research on health outcomes will help patients and doctors decide on the most effective courses of treatment.
Fourth and finally, Democrats want to preserve and strengthen patients’ choice of plans and doctors. An option to enroll in a public insurance plan won’t simply give Americans another choice of coverage—its competition will push private insurers toward lower costs and higher quality. And contrary to Republican claims, the Democratic plan won’t force employers to drop millions of employers from coverage; the Congressional Budget Office actually found that employer-provided coverage will increase. As a result, Americans who like the coverage they have will be able to keep it.
Even as you’re reading this, we’re working with President Obama to finish a bill that will hold to the principles of stability, affordability, quality, and patient choice, without raising the deficit. The status quo is getting costlier every day, and that makes our work more urgent.
But anyone who seriously claims that we are rushing through reform needs a reality check. The House held 79 health care hearings in the last two years; just this year, members of Congress have heard from their constituents at more than 550 health care town halls and public events.
And not just that—for decades, health reform has been one of the most-discussed domestic issues in America. In the 2008 election, repairing the economy and expanding access to health care were central issues for all candidates, in both parties. In fact, we, as a nation, have been debating about how to bring affordable health care to every American for most of the 20th century, and into the 21st. This, at last, is our moment. We must not miss it.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is the House Majority Leader and a leading voice in the Democratic party. He is currently serving his 15th term representing the 5th Congressional District of Maryland.