Even while his hands aretied-up with wars on two fronts and a recession-struck econom on a scale not seen since the Great Depression, President Obama has been actively working on the passage by Congress of a bill that would solve the problems that have been bedevilling the US health care system – chiefly high medical costs and inaccessibility.
Problems with Health Care
It is estimated that there are 47 million Americans without health care insurance and 25 million who are underinsured.
Underinsured Americans are those who do not have sufficient insurance coverage and are therefore forced to shoulder part of the cost of their medical care.
The huge number of both uninsured and underinsured Americans is attributable to the high cost of health care, which in turn is due to several factors.
According to Jessamyn Conrad in her book What You Should Know About Politics But Don’t, some of these factors are: costly malpractice insurance of physicians, expensive marketing costs of insurance companies and investment by hospitals in expensive technology.
Interestingly, Conrad partly attributes high medical costs to Medicare and Medicaid (government-funded health insurance for Americans who are 65 years old and with low-income, respectively).
She says, “many [health care] providers raised their standard charges in order to falsely lower rates for Medicare and Medicaid, inflating health care costs across the board.”
In a Time magazine article “The 5 Big Health Care Dilemmas,” Karen Tumulty says for every dollar spent on health care 30 cents is wasted on unnecessary medical procedures that make health care even more expensive.
The most controversial feature in President Obama’s health-care reform plan is a universal health care program or what is popularly known as universal access.
Under this plan, the government will provide an option to uninsured Americans to sign up for affordable health insurance coverage.
This will be a government-funded health care program much like the Medicare and Medicaid.
Those with existing health insurance can stay with their current plans, but nothing prevents them from taking the public option.
Under this plan pre-existing conditions will no longer be excluded from coverage.
Objections to a Public Option
The main objections to a universal access health care plan are bigger government involvement in people’s health care choices, huge costs and elimination of private insurance.
According to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, a government-run health care would be substituting bureaucrats for doctors in making medical decisions and raised the danger of government inefficiency in running the program. The price tag is also a big issue.
In a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, it was estimated that the Senate’s public option plan would cost more than one trillion dollars.
But President Obama seems confident he can source the funding through reforms in Medicare and Medicaid.
Healso argues that a public option will bring down the premiums of insurance companies by making them competitive.
Given the strong public support for universal access it is unlikely that President Obama will buckle under in the face of opposition.
A recent New York Times/CBS survey shows that 72% of those polled favor a universal health care plan.