by Tamar Zaidenweber
A fundamental function of our government is to protect its citizens’ rights. The Declaration of Independence defines our rights as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Today, many believe that the right to life equates to the right to adequate health coverage and care. While our legislators work to protect our rights, the reality of politics is that change takes time.
In 1965, prior to the Congress’ passage of the Social Security Act, almost all Americans were only able to purchase health insurance through their employers. The government saw it fit to fill in the gap for people who did not have the option of purchasing that insurance. For a time, Medicare and Medicaid were the ‘safety net’ options for those who would otherwise go without coverage. But the gaps have grown, and the country is again faced with a set of mounting challenges that must be addressed before they become unmanageable.
The number of Americans without health insurance has risen dramatically since 1965; the cost of health services has followed suit and aspects of coverage are being cut. Moreover, there is a tug-of-war between the health insurance companies and doctors that is causing the cost of health care to take up a larger portion of the GDP each year. Many insurers have a primary obligation to their stockholders or owners, which forces them to cut costs, benefits, and even drop expensive beneficiaries to try to meet profit margins and estimates. As their reimbursement rates lower, the doctors are being paid less and their costs are rising; physician malpractice insurance rates are exorbitantly high and more patients they see do not have health insurance, or are on Medicare or Medicaid, which often reimburse at a lower rate than private insurers.
The goal of health reform includes increased security and stability, insurance choices for the uninsured, and attempts to slow the growth of health care costs. Steps must be taken to rein in the wild beast that our health care system has become. There are some differences in the House bill and the two Senate versions of the current health reform bill (and a convenient summary of each here), but all are attempts to address these issues and goals. Within each bill there are innovative, concrete plans to improve health care in our country. As we have seen, the political reality of passing such a mammoth reform is extremely tenuous, but we can only hope that something will be done before greater sacrifices are required.