A Word on Healthcare

While we are not in the habit of sharing editorials unless they directly reference our work, we believe that this piece in yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times brings forth with unusual clarity the theme “we are in this together” that underlies so much of the mission of Protestants for the Common Good. We commend this piece to you.

Chicago Sun Times

Health care is now an American right

March 23, 2010

We are in this together. That’s the spirit that moved President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and every Democrat who voted “yes” in the House Sunday for the historic bill that will soon make health care affordable for almost every American.
We are in this together.

We know that sounds insufferably schmaltzy to many, with its echoes of soft-headed dreamers singing “Kumbaya.” But that has always been the matter at the heart of this centurylong national debate over health care: how much do we give a damn about each other.

We are a nation of individualists. Our abiding metaphor, even now, is the self-sufficient pioneer mending his own fences, minding his own business. When we help a neighbor, we do so because we want to, not because some government law says we must. We leave the socialism to the Swedes.

But we have always been more wrapped up in each other’s business than we care to admit. We have always accepted that there is an important place for government in creating the safety net and passing out the basic tools of competition that make individualism and capitalism more fair and humane. Every child deserves an education. Every poor person deserves a roof over his head. Every man or woman willing to work deserves a job. Every elderly person deserves a secure old age.

And now we can add affordable health care to that short list of fundamental rights for all Americans.

Rights. Not privileges.

Obama will sign the health care bill into law today during a ceremony at the White House, after which he will take to the road on a public education campaign. The president wants to get out front on this one, knowing that Republican critics will continue to trash the new law, misrepresenting its effects and costs.

Frankly, we don’t think the president has much to worry about.

Once the bill is law, Americans will quickly realize there has been no “government takeover” and there are no “death panels.”

They will be delighted to find they can keep their children on the family insurance through age 26. They will be relieved to find that though they’ve lost a job, they have not lost their insurance. They will sigh with relief the first time that they, or somebody close to them, suffers a catastrophic illness and — lo and behold — the insurance companies can’t jack up their rates or deny them coverage.

And what will be the Republican strategy? To complain that the bill costs too much, a specious argument that, at best, will win them a few seats in Congress in November.

Illinois’ own Mark Kirk, the North Shore congressman now running for the Senate, has vowed to lead the Republican charge to “repeal” the bill. To which we say: Go for it. The political independents Kirk must attract to win election will desert him in droves, but the Tea Party crowd will adore him.

The GOP’s complaints — when they’re not calling people “baby killers” — have always had some limited merit. Specifically, we have shared their concerns about the relentlessly escalating cost of health care. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the new law will lower federal deficits by $138 billion over 10 years, but that figure was derived by front-loading revenues from taxes and fees and delaying spending. And even if one takes the CBO numbers at face value, the bill Obama signs today will only marginally slow the projected growth of health care costs.

The solution, however, was never to kill health care reform, but rather to move away from the wasteful fee-for-service system by which doctors and hospitals get paid for every last X-ray and MRI they prescribe, whether necessary or not. That battle has yet to be fought, but must.

But to save a buck by giving the boot to millions of uninsured fellow Americans — that was no longer an option.

To watch a woman die of colon cancer because she could not afford a colon screening — that was no longer an option.

To watch a family lose their home because a child’s medical bills have wiped them out — that was no longer an option.

Health care in America is finally a right, not a privilege, because enough of us understand:

We are in this together.

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