Alternative is unacceptable

What’s the realistic alternative to the health-care overhaul poised for action in Congress this week? The status quo.

Critics of “ObamaCare” call for starting over, citing polls that show majorities of Americans opposing the current legislation. That opposition is all over the map, though, encompassing liberals who think the plan leaves too much power in the hands of private insurers, and conservatives convinced it gives government far too much control.

Given the poisonous atmosphere of our politics, it’s hard to imagine any legislation that could win bipartisan support while expanding coverage to the uninsured and beginning to get a handle on health-care costs. Any such plan would make some special interests feel threatened, launching a big-money public-relations war — the kind that moves poll numbers. It’s an environment that resists change.

Starting over means keeping the broken system we have for years. And years. It means more emergency departments acting as primary-care facilities for the uninsured. It means the continuation of a Medicare system that rewards the number of services provided rather than the quality of care. It means Americans with medical conditions remaining unable to change jobs for fear of losing coverage.

Those are unacceptable options. The legislation that passed the Senate and is now before the House, imperfect though it is, represents progress. Presuming amendments being negotiated between the two chambers receive favorable cost scores from the Congressional Budget Office, it’s time to get this legislation passed and turn the national focus to other pressing issues.

It bears repeating that the Senate bill includes initiatives that will improve the coordination of care, building on the success of innovative providers like The Everett Clinic and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who knows those providers’ stories well, worked doggedly on the Finance Committee to get such provisions into the bill.

They include Medicare projects that will encourage physicians and hospitals to form “accountable care organizations” where the incentive is to deliver cost-effective care that’s proven to work, not just order up more tests and procedures to get more government reimbursements. Ultimately, that’s the most important culture change needed to slow inflation throughout the system.

Starting over on health-care legislation means putting off these reforms, allowing spiraling costs to continue to choke individuals, businesses and local governments.

This legislation is not a panacea — it represents a first, crucial step toward effective reform. Thoughtful adjustments will be required as its impacts on the various parts of the health-care system become more clear.

But the time has come for Congress to take that first step.