Guest Columns

KEFALAS: MISINFORMATION SULLIES INSURANCE DEBATE

This we know: Our current health care system is unsustainable

While the Colorado Legislature is out of session, the battle for health care reform is raging in Washington, D.C. With the House and Senate trying to pass a major reform bill, and with hundreds of insurance, hospital and pharmacy lobbyists filling the halls of Congress, it’s hard to know what the final product will be. Meanwhile, there is a colossal amount of misinformation being thrown at the American people and members of Congress in a high-priced and disingenuous campaign to kill health care reform.

Despite the uncertainty, what we do know is that our current employer-based health care finance and delivery system is deeply flawed and unsustainable in terms of cost, quality and access. We all have stories about the failings of our system and the impact of those failings on family, friends and businesses. We know people who have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, have had to pay more out of pocket because of high deductibles, have been forced to drop insurance because it was too expensive, have had to choose between medicine and food, or have gone into bankruptcy or foreclosure because of debilitating medical costs.

Insurance premiums and overall health care costs continue to skyrocket out of control, and the quality of care for the amount of money we spend is a serious problem. This doesn’t make sense, because America has the best medical providers and technology in the world. Yet, our health care outcomes are not the best. We are not getting good value for our money. More people are uninsured or underinsured, more small businesses cannot cover their employees, and we pay more per capita than other countries do.

At the same time, there are those who express satisfaction with their health insurance, especially those who work for large employers that can still provide generous health plans. An important question, though, is how long these companies can continue to provide such benefits while competing in the global marketplace.

An interesting development, worth noting, came recently when U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, passed an amendment to H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, to allow states to establish their own single-payer systems. The amendment passed out of committee — 14 Democrats and 13 Republicans voted yes.

A single-payer system is one in which medical providers remain private while a not-for-profit health care entity, either governmental or non-governmental, provides health insurance, paying the bills more efficiently and saving us money. Private health insurance companies would provide supplemental coverage and focus on quality medical care. Everyone is covered, and insurance is portable, which allows entrepreneurs who start new companies and workers who lose their jobs to have security if a serious illness occurs. There are different approaches for financing such a system, and if done right, health care will cost less with improved quality.

Obviously, health care reform is complex, and the American public is cautious about changing a system. However, we must have the courage to advance the necessary structural changes based on American values and evidence-based policy decisions. And yes there is a proper role for government to provide in a public health insurance option.

A 21st century health care system must embrace what the American people want: choices, fairness, guaranteed access, affordability, cost-containment and improved quality. They want a system that promotes personal and shared responsibility, focuses on primary care, prevention and wellness, and honestly addresses long-term and chronic care issues.

Democrat John Kefalas, of Fort Collins, has represented House District 52 since 2007. Early in the 2009 session, he introduced House Bill 1273, dubbed the Colorado Guaranteed Health Care Act, which would have created a single-payer system. He withdrew the bill in April for lack of support.