Remember the message that James Carville made famous during the 1992 presidential campaign: "It's the economy, stupid"? And remember that in 1992, health care reform was a major focus of the incoming administration?
History can repeat itself. Sixteen years later, here we are again, facing a crisis in both the economy and health care. This time it is even worse. And this time we must find the political will to tackle both issues - at the same time.
The presidential transition is well underway, and the Obama administration is taking shape. The president-elect is talking about how he'll govern, and has reiterated that health care reform is high on his to-do list. "We can't afford to wait on moving forward on key priorities that I identified during the campaign, including...health care," Mr. Obama said recently.
Former Senator Tom Daschle, who Obama has tapped as the next Secretary of Health and Human Services, has signaled his intention to make health care reform one of his first orders of business. Daschle has promised town halls, online videos, and other efforts to create public support and momentum - and these will be rolled out this month.
We all know from previous attempts that sweeping health care reform involves extremely difficult choices. If it succeeds this time, it's safe to say that the results won't make everyone happy.
But breast cancer advocates know about difficult choices and imperfect results. We were ready in 1992. And we're more than ready now.
The National Breast Cancer Coalition has been working closely with the incoming administration and will continue to work with the new Congress to make guaranteed access to quality health care for all a reality in this country. Not sixteen years from now. Now. It has been NBCC's number one policy priority for some time - and we will make it a priority until we succeed.
There are naysayers who say that serious health care reform must wait until we have made significant inroads on the economic crisis. We should not allow this to be viewed as an either-or situation. Our government is investing billions of dollars in economic recovery programs. We know that our health care system needs work. There is waste, overuse and underuse. Our government can invest public funds now in modernizing, fixing and expanding our health care system. It makes social and economic sense. In the long run, it will save lives and financial resources.
Of course, health care costs do play a role in the present economic crisis. Consider the issue of medical debt. It is one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy and home foreclosure in this country. According to a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation , an estimated 58 million Americans are unable able to pay their medical bills. And here's a surprise: according to a 2006 Commonwealth Fund study, about 60% of this group HAS medical insurance. Insurance is only helpful if it pays for what you need. A recent St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial concluded that "fixing our dysfunctional, fractured health system won't, by itself, solve the nation's economic crisis. But ignoring it will make that crisis worse...Fundamental change must include ways of controlling health costs...[W]e'd suggest that you can't fix American's economic crisis without addressing its health care crisis." We agree.