This spring and summer, Congress is taking up the complicated, politically difficult task of reforming the nation's health care system. Why is reform needed, what will it look like, and how will any new laws be developed?
Many leaders agree with health care experts and patients that health care must be reformed, but their reasons may be different. Some see the problem as costs. The nation's health care expenditures are growing fast. Experts project that costs will soon exceed what government and businesses can afford to pay.
Many like me see the problem as one of compassion for the 47+ million men, women and children who are uninsured. With the current economic crisis, millions more are at risk of losing health care as companies eliminate jobs. Lack of insurance means lack of access to medicines that are so important in treating chronic diseases like asthma and allergies. Why must some go without?
Others point to quality, noting that the US spends more money on health care than other developed nations but our health outcomes are at the level of third world countries for some indicators. In addition, research has shown that quality varies based on a patient's ethnicity, geography, gender and disability.
Political leaders tend to agree that now is the time to push health reform legislation because the President is willing to spend the political capital. His party, which controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate, favors health reform.
The bills offered by the Congress will address three major areas of reform:
- Coverage - who will be covered and how?
- Delivery system - what steps will be taken to improve quality and outcomes?
- Financing - how will the nation pay for health care, especially the additional people and services to be covered?
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are preparing legislation. Leaders aim to bring these bills for a vote this summer. If passed by both bodies, the differences will be worked out and a final bill will be sent to President Obama to sign into law.
The Senate Finance Committee has already met with major stakeholders in roundtable discussions and issued papers with broad recommendations for changes in the delivery system, coverage and financing. The Senate Health Education and Labor Committee is writing legislation. The House of Representatives has three committees considering legislation. Leaders say that they will all come together with proposals by mid-summer.
Patients should not put that health reform will not affect them. To the contrary, patients can have a major impact, and patients must become involved in making sure that health reform serves their interests. I know policy experts and politicians. They need your real world experience and wisdom to direct them. Share your story with them. When they are in your hometown district from June 29 - July 3, 2009, plan to see them at hometown events or in their district offices. Find our where they will be and let them know how you feel.
- Charlotte W. Collins, JD
Public Policy and Advocacy Director
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Published On: May 01, 2009