What is most upsetting to me about the failure of healthcare reform is that so many Americans do not understand what just happened. Sure, they know the Senate and House reform bills were expensive. They certainly know that there are among 30 to 50 million Americans without health insurance coverage (depending on how one counts). We should also not forget about the 25 million under insured, most of whom do not even realize it until they actually get sick.
I cannot find anyone who felt good about the reform process in Washington. All this left so many Americans with a bad feeling about healthcare reform. The political polls continue to show declining support. Sadly, I don't blame them. Where has the President been? Sending the "A Team" from the Whitehouse to negotiate deals behind closed doors is not very comforting to the American people. They expected more from this Presidency. So did I.
Here's the big problem right now: Doing nothing is far worse than doing something, as unpopular as it may be. True, the public is angry. Watching the horrific process unfold as it did the past few months, it is understandable to see why so many forgot why we were reforming the system in the first place. On healthcare, I am truly non-partisan. I am a Reformer. That does not make me a Liberal. To me, healthcare should have no political party affiliation. I know the importance of reform first hand. I work for a large academic medical center in New York City.
I see the problems with our current system on a daily basis. I also host a weekly call in radio show (Healthcare Connect - Sirius 114/XM 119) where we try to help people navigate through and understand how the current system works. It's tough out there and people only realize it when something goes wrong with their health. President Obama rightfully decided now is the time to fix healthcare.
I believe President Obama took a back seat to the reform process. He started, but then stopped trying to explain to us why it was so important. Through the process, the reform messages became blurred. Making grand statements to Congress (and the public) was a good start, but as the details started to come out, we needed someone to remind us how important it is to fix. The conservative right took over the message and sadly President Obama was silent. I tried each and every week to get someone from the White House or from the various reform bill committees on my radio show but no one would talk. I was always told they were too busy negotiating behind closed doors. Secrecy, the federal government and healthcare are not a good combination. When legislation finally emerged, we saw all the unsavory deals that were cut behind the scenes to get the necessary votes. While that process is not unique to politics, it is contrary to the open government President Obama campaigned on and promised us a year ago.
Healthcare reform is too important to fail. Not passing reform will end up costing this country far more than doing nothing. Reform was going to be funded by taxes on higher income Americans along with costs reductions from our current bloated system. Healthcare costs will continue to rise at alarmingly high rates. These higher costs will be passed on to all of us through higher insurance premiums and cost sharing (higher co-pays and deductibles every time you see your doctor or go to the hospital). Those who are unlucky will no longer be able to afford the higher premiums and drop their insurance altogether, thus becoming a burden on the individual states that already do not have enough money to pay for healthcare. What a mess.
What we need now is a leader. We need the President to explain to everyone why he was doing this in the first place. If healthcare is too complicated of a subject for him to explain, then hire an army of speakers who can and will explain it in simple terms that everyone can understand. I have been writing about reform for more than a year, explaining the issues as they come up. While I am happy to have done it, and I will keep doing so long as it's needed, I feel President Obama needs to do this too. Too many people call into my radio show looking for help. They have been laid off and COBRA has ended. More and more are calling in to say they simply cannot afford the premiums anymore. I used to be able to say sit tight, reform is on the way. Now I am frustrated because I am not sure what I can tell them.
The most significant piece of social policy since the creation of Medicare was buried 30 minutes into the State of the Union address. How is that championing healthcare reform? It's time to make a difference. Since the majority of Americans are against the current versions of the bills in the House and Senate, we need to start again. If the politicians can work together, even better. If they cannot, then the President needs to step in and tell the nation what he wants and in no uncertain terms explain to us all the cost of failure. We have a tendency in this country to put difficult decisions off to the future. I believe we can no longer do it when it comes to healthcare in our country. It does not matter what political party you belong to, when you are sick without healthcare insurance, you are in big trouble. No one, Republican, Democrat or Independent, should ever find themselves in that situation -- not in America. Not in the country where so many great scientific discoveries have taken place. It's time Mr. President. Lead us. We cannot afford to wait.