Late Saturday, the House passed a landmark health insurance reform bill, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. Enactment of this bill would put our nation on par with the rest of the industrialized world.
We are a great nation, a prosperous and compassionate one. But our health care system doesn’t measure up to that greatness. We pay twice what every other industrialized nation pays and yet, 71 nations have enabled their people to live longer and healthier lives.
We spend almost two times as much per person on health care as countries like Canada, Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Yet, the life expectancy in all those countries exceeds ours. Where Canada spends 10 percent and Japan spends 8 percent, America spents16 percent of its GDP – 1/6th of our economy – on health care. While the Canadian and Japanese health care systems deny treatment to no one, our system leaves millions of Americans out. The difference is that these countries have decided that the health of their people is a higher priority than the profit of their insurance companies.
Under the Affordable Health Care for America Act, the government would be responsible for making sure that everyone can afford quality health insurance. It would ensure that every American has the option of seeing a medical professional before making important health decisions.
Contrary to common myth, health reform is not a government takeover of our health care system. It’s setting the rules at the federal level to ensure no one is denied coverage and providing financial assistance to those individuals and small businesses who cannot afford it on their own. The public insurance option is but one of many plans individuals and small businesses could purchase through the proposed national exchange.
The reform is also done in a way that is economically sustainable. The Affordable Health Care for America Act would not add to the deficit. On the contrary, it would actually reduce the deficit by $30 billion over ten years. It would be fully paid for through a variety of funding mechanisms, including the elimination of waste, fraud and abuse and rewarding quality-not quantity-for health services.
In 1965, as part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative, our nation enacted Medicare. As a result, today most seniors in America enjoy a middle class lifestyle-relatively free from worries about the cost of health care. On Saturday, the House of Representatives took the first step toward offering a similar piece of mind to all Americans-including the 47 million uninsured-and realizing a health care system that is commensurate with our nation’s greatness.