The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

August 8, 2009

Obama, take time to get reform right


President Obama's commitment to health care reform was one reason he got my vote.

And while I admire his desire to make good on the promise during his first year in office, I'm glad it hasn't happened just yet.

Judging by the debate swirling around the Senate and the misconceptions and concerns aired in the media over the last few weeks, Obama needs to slow down a little bit, get the American people behind his plan, and make sure it's done right.

Otherwise, I'm afraid we'll end up with a plan that costs too much, is too cumbersome to execute or doesn't have a public health insurance option.

We absolutely need a public option. It's the only reasonable way to give the 47 million Americans without insurance a chance at coverage.

Forcing the insurance companies to compete against a government-run program is the best compromise between a single-payer system, which is too drastic to ever be accepted here, and the current system, which is too inefficient and expensive to sustain.

According to Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the United States spent approximately $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007, or $7,421 per person _ more than we spend on housing or food and nearly twice the average of other developed nations.

Having the most expensive health care system in the world does not mean we are the healthiest, however.

The United States ranks 24th in life expectancy among developed countries; only three developed countries have higher infant mortality rates; and more than one-third of Americans are obese.

Crazy things are going on, and not just the life-and-death stories Obama tells to convey his sense of urgency.

How about the women who would like to be at home caring for their children, but instead are working at jobs they don't enjoy and spending their entire paychecks on day care, because they need the health insurance?

Or the working families whose insurance premiums and deductibles are so high that they can't afford to go to the doctor for preventive care?

The insurance companies are an easy target. They've made record profits by refusing coverage, denying claims and forcing doctors to focus on paperwork rather than take care of patients.

But they are not the only ones at fault. Pharmaceutical companies that relentlessly market their drugs; hospitals and medical practices that are inefficient; and consumers who would rather take a daily pill than a walk _ all bear a share of the blame.

Changing the system will require a shared effort by health care consumers and providers, government and the private sector.

It's encouraging to see Otsego County's two local health care organizations, Bassett Healthcare and A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital, already working together on ways to be more efficient by sharing services.

I feel very fortunate to have access to care at Bassett, whose salaried physician model and coordinated care approach were recently featured on the front page of The New York Times, alongside the Cleveland Clinic, in an article about hospitals that are models for efficient, high-quality health care.

The bottom line is Obama's health care reform plan is about two things: providing insurance for every American and offering better care at lower costs.

Even if Congress could agree on those basic premises, there were too many details to work out and too many misconceptions floating around for this plan to be passed without further study and debate.

To his credit, Obama has done a lot of consensus-building in terms of getting all the players to the table, incorporating ideas from Republican lawmakers, and answering questions at news conferences and town hall meetings.

But he needs to do more to get the American people behind this effort. If they believe his plan is needed and will work, Congress will follow.

The White House should put the full text of the latest bill, including recent amendments, on its official health care reform website (www.healthreform.gov), along with an easy-to-read frequently asked questions section that dispels myths about what the bill would and would not do.

The president should hold a prime-time address that clearly spells out major aspects of the plan and how it would be financed.

With a month to gather more input, iron out sticking points and get consumers, businesses and health care providers to understand and support his plan, Obama may well hear the answer he wants when Congress returns in September: "Yes, we can!"

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Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.