02/26/2009 04:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

President Obama is Right: Health Care Reform Cannot Wait

On Tuesday night, President Obama spoke to the nation about how we will rebuild our economy. Like many Americans, I was heartened to hear him renew his commitment to pursue health care reform and to do it THIS YEAR. He told us that the "cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough." And he is right.

AFSCME members know this too well. The cost of health care coverage has skyrocketed. It threatens the economic security of working families, it strains state and federal budgets and it reduces the competitiveness of American businesses, especially those that compete in the global market. And shamefully, more than 46 million people have no coverage at all. Those fortunate enough to have coverage too often receive poor quality care.

We agree with President Obama that in reforming our health care system, we need to build on what works. Those who like their coverage should keep it. Those who don't, should have a choice of private insurance plans or a high quality public health insurance plan. A public health insurance plan would operate more cost-effectively and drive quality improvements. This would force efficiencies and innovation in private insurance coverage. We need an American solution in which all of us–individuals, employers and government–share responsibility for guaranteeing quality, affordable health care we can all count on.

In his speech to the joint session of Congress on Tuesday, President Obama told us that we must address the crushing costs of health care in order to move our country forward. He gave us the grim statistics on why we must finally reform our health care system and get our health care costs under control. Today, it causes a bankruptcy every 30 seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. Health care costs force small businesses to close their doors and corporations to ship jobs overseas.

President Obama has followed up his strong words on Tuesday night with a budget that makes good on his promise. While we don't yet know all the details, he proposes to put $634 billion (over ten years) in a reserve fund to pay for health care reform. This is a substantial downpayment towards achieving comprehensive health care reform. And it's not just money. The President's budget also includes policy changes that will improve our health care system, such as reining in overpayments to private Medicare plans and requiring them to compete in order to offer coverage.

President Obama's economic recovery plan included investments in our health care system that will reduce medical errors, bring costs down and improve quality of care and save lives. Now, he is building on these reforms in his first budget, making "an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform--a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American." And he told us "let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year." Amen to that.