Sep 8, 2009

Federal health care bill waiting on Congressional vote

by Matthew Coleman

 A battle for the future of America’s health care system has been raging in Congress for months, effectively dividing party lines and public opinion. The fierce debate over whether the government should take a significantly more active role in regulating and maintaining the health care system is still undecided.

H.R.3200 is a 1018-page health care reform bill that is waiting on a Congressional vote.

One of the biggest reasons health care reform is being proposed is the exorbitant costs of maintaining Medicaid and Medicare. Both government-run programs, Medicaid and Medicare were signed into law in 1965 to provide medical care for those who could not afford it. At the time, only 23.4 percent of the American population fell under that category, according to Microeconomics: Private and Public Choice. As of 2005, over 49 percent of Americans qualify, putting more financial strain on the programs than can be handled or alleviated.

“We are on an unsustainable course right now, because we have made more promises under three main programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security than can be fulfilled under any sensible set of tax rates,” Brookings Institution Economist Alice Rivlin said in a Frontline report.

If something is not done, the current health care system will break the American economy’s back, according to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orszag.

“If healthcare costs grow at the same rate over the next four decades as they did over the past four decades, Medicare and Medicaid — those are the two federal health insurance programs — will go from 5 percent of the economy to 20 percent by 2050,” Orszag said in a Frontline report.

“If you are looking at where the money is, it is in health care, and this budget is the most aggressive budget that I have ever seen in terms of moving towards a more efficient health care system,” Orszag said.

Another driving cause for reform is the number of people in America who are not insured. Nearly 46 million people under the age of 65—18 percent of the American population—are currently without medical coverage, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. The health care reform would ensure that everyone in America, including those who cannot afford it, is covered.
The only way to fix the faltering health care system and the sky-rocketing cost of insurance payments in America is to completely overhaul the existing system, according to Obama. He told radio host Michael Smerconsih Thursday that “any bill he signs will have to reduce rapidly rising (medical) costs, protect consumers from insurance abuses and provide affordable choices to the uninsured while not adding to the federal deficit,” according to the News and Advance.

But even with the promises and hopeful outlooks from the White House, support for the health care reform and, subsequently, Obama has been faltering. Favorable public opinion has dropped sharply eight points to 49 percent in the last six weeks, while Obama’s overall approval rating has dropped to 45 percent, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released this week.

The devil is in the details of the health care reform, according to Wall Street Journal Reporter Thomas Frank. The sheer magnitude of the changes being proposed is leaving many Americans scratching their heads about whether the bill is truly the best route to take.

The estimated 46 million uninsured people in America can be broken down into four subcategories. Ten million of those people are non-American citizens who are in this country illegally, 14 million make $50,000 or more per year and can afford their own health care insurance, 14 million are already eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and the rest are truly unable to pay for health insurance, according to Economics Professor Robert Rencher.

“When you throw out all those people (who can get insurance) we are down to under 10 million people who cannot afford health care,” Rencher said. “Let’s only focus on the five to ten million people that are truly unable to afford or receive health care and not turn the whole (health care) system on its head.”

Another issue being raised is the cost of health care reform. While Obama has promised a plan that will not add to the deficit, the current plan proposed by Congress is projected to add a trillion dollars to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“You can’t do what is being proposed (in the health care bill) and not increase the deficits,” Rencher said.

With America’s debt already nearing $12 trillion, many are wondering where the government is going to get the money to pay for the proposed health care reform.

In addition, many Americans are finding themselves at odds with the numerous programs and regulations the 1018-page bill will put into effect.

One of the greatest concerns voiced by the American people is the infamous “death panels” proposed by the bill that will decide who lives and who dies. Obama has denounced the existence of these panels.

To a degree, Obama is correct. The bill makes no specific mention of a “death panel.”

However, on sec. 123, pg. 30, the does say that there will be a government committee deciding what treatments and benefits everyone gets, according to Free Republic Reporter Peter Fleckenstein. This committee – not a panel - will be responsible for deciding who receives what treatments and surgeries. The decisions will be based on who is most deserving of treatment, according to Special Advisor for Health Policy Ezekiel Emanuel.

“We recommend an alternative system — the complete lives system — which prioritizes younger people who have not yet lived a complete life,” Emanuel said in the Lancet’s Jan. 31 edition.

“This system also treats human beings as commodities, evaluating their lives as investments,” Dean of Law Mat Staver said in www.LC.org. “An agency will determine the kinds and amount of care to be provided based on a person’s age and condition. The cost of life years will be determined by establishing protocols that place a value of medical care in dollars to the age and illness of a person.”

“Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the pain killer,” Obama said at a nationally televised town hall meeting on June 25, according to www.LC.org.

The daunting list of rules and regulations has left many Americans wondering whether this bill is the best thing for them or America as a whole.

As it stands, the bill will provide federal funding for abortions, give the government access to everyone’s financial records, grant free treatment for all illegal immigrants, require health care rationing, impose fees on private insurance companies, provide end-of-life counseling as opposed to necessary treatment and impose higher taxes on the American populace, according to Fleckenstein.

As the list goes on, the issue of morality becomes a factor, and the overwhelming cries heard from many town hall meetings across the country make one point very clear: A majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars funding these programs.
Congress reconvened this week, and Obama will address the nation Wednesday in an attempt to reach a bipartisan compromise on the health care reform bill. The question to be answered is: has public support for health care reform, and for the president himself, eroded so badly that it will be impossible to pass H.R. 3200. America will soon see.

Contact Matthew Coleman at mcoleman@liberty.edu.


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