Why the Economic Crisis Shouldn't Mean Putting Off Health Care

Many have speculated that the health care reform promised during the election will have to be put off in the face of our severe economic crisis. Others warned that comprehensive reform will be impossible given the budget gaps and believe piece-meal reform is the most we can hope for. Still others believe the new president will not be able to tackle comprehensive health care reform in his first year for political reasons.


Many others believe, however, that the economic crisis makes health care reform all the more pressing. They believe it would help businesses and individuals.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, is on the side of taking action now:

"[S]tandard textbook economics says that it's O.K., in fact appropriate, to run temporary deficits in the face of a depressed economy. Meanwhile, one or two years of red ink, while it would add modestly to future federal interest expenses, shouldn't stand in the way of a health care plan that, even if quickly enacted into law, probably wouldn't take effect until 2011."

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary and advisor to Barack Obama, Lawrence Summers, has said the nation must tackle a variety of challenges that go beyond responding to the current financial crisis, including health care. He called for comprehensive health care reform to reduce the explosion of health care costs in the federal budget and to advance American competitiveness.

Gene Sperling, a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for American Progress Action Fund, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health on the benefits of addressing health care in a second economic stimulus package:

"We should be looking for win/wins: places where investments can both have a strong stimulative impact and be an important down payment on major long-term priorities. We should be looking for sweet spots that can both jumpstart jobs and jumpstart the future ... Health care initiatives can be a triple benefit in this context."

The New America Foundation recently released a report highlighting "The Cost of Doing Nothing" on health reform:

"Our economy loses hundreds of billions of dollars every year because of the diminished health and shorter lifespan of the uninsured. Rising health care costs undermine the ability of U.S. firms to compete internationally, threaten the stability of American jobs, and place increasing strain on local, state, and federal budgets. As health care costs continue to rise faster than wages, health insurance becomes more and more unaffordable for more and more American families every day. ...

"We must reform our struggling health system not in spite of our economic crisis, but rather because of the impact health care has on the American economy. The economic and social impact of inaction is high and it will only rise over time." [Emphasis added]

The data is on the side of those pushing for action on health care reform now.

Another report has come out showing people's lives are in jeopardy because health care is too expensive. The Commonwealth Fund released survey results that reveal more than half of chronically ill adults in the United States skip needed care because they can't afford it. The survey also reports U.S. patients face more medical errors and inefficient, poorly organized care than patients in seven other industrialized countries.

Karen Davis of the Commonwealth Fund told the Washington Post: "We cannot afford not to reform our health-care system. Investment in our health-care system will pay dividends in terms of a healthy workforce and economically secure families."

The need for immediate reform of our health care system is made even more starkly apparent by the projected costs of annual family health insurance premiums put out by Jennifer E. DeVoe, a physician and researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University. DeVoe estimates that health care premiums will top $80,000 by 2025, which will be higher than the projected average household income for the same year.

DeVoe based her projections on the most recent census figures and medical expenditure survey data. She added that factoring in the reality of high deductibles and co-payments, the average health care premium and out-of-pocket costs could exceed the average income before 2025.

Paying $80,000 a year for health insurance! THAT is an economic crisis!



Graph of Projected Premiums to Wages

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