Don’t buy scare tactics; reformed health care will cost less

  • By Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Eileen Cody
  • Friday, August 7, 2009 1:35pm
  • OpinionCommentary

Now that Congress is in August recess, those who want to maintain the health care status quo have gone into overdrive to derail reform efforts before a single proposal can be voted on by the full House and Senate. The tactics are old and tired — scare and confuse the public with distortions and half-truths so nothing gets done.

You’re bound to hear the line that the Obama administration is moving too fast on health reform. The truth is the issue has gone unresolved since the 1900s, when Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party included it as part of its platform. It’s easy to say “just slow down” when you have health coverage and your body hasn’t betrayed you. But if you’re one of the estimated 46 million uninsured Americans just one illness away from financial ruin, reform can’t come soon enough.

And having insurance doesn’t protect you anymore, either. Statistics show that roughly 62 percent of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical problems, and 78 percent of the people who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance. We challenge the critics to look those people in the eye and tell them health reform can wait.

Critics also denounce projected reform costs that could top $1 trillion over the next decade. Sure, we’re talking about a lot of money, but naysayers fail to mention that our current system costs $2.2 trillion a year to stay afloat. If we don’t act now, health care spending is projected to grow to $3.1 trillion in 2012 and $4.3 trillion by 2016. That means doing nothing will cost us more than four times as much as the cost of reform.

There’s no magic bullet to controlling costs, but better health information technology, preventive care and disease management show promise. Those are issues we have worked hard to address here in Washington, and we believe any federal plan should allow states to continue to build on existing state reform efforts.

The 2009 Legislature passed Senate Bill 5346, which requires insurance companies to adopt uniform standards and forms. And our state’s first-in-the-nation Health Technology Assessment program, created in 2006, established an independent, clinical committee to determine which medical treatments are safe and effective and provide good value to patients. In two years, the program has conducted empirical reviews of 10 treatments, including arthroscopic knee surgery and virtual colonoscopy. As a result of the program, the state has saved $21 million in unnecessary and potentially harmful care. Annualized savings exceed $27 million.

Several state agencies also participate in the Statewide Prescription Drug program that uses unbiased evidence reports and an independent, clinical committee to determine the most effective drugs. So far, the state’s top 28 drug classes have been reviewed, saving an estimated $55 million in 2008 alone.

Those are just some of the reforms we’ve been working on, but no state can afford to tackle this problem alone. We need the federal government to lead the way in replacing our outdated and inefficient health care delivery system with one that honors our values and puts the physical and economic well-being of all Americans ahead of profit.

It’s estimated that 14,000 Americans lose their health care every day. That’s roughly the population of Centralia. This year, with the leadership of the Obama administration, we can reverse that trend and build a health care system that protects our choice of doctors and insurance programs, assures all Americans affordable health care, and reduces costs to make health care affordable for us all.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, chairs the state Senate Health &Long-Term Care Committee. Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, chairs the state House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

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