Saturday, November 14, 2009

America needs a real health care debate

health insurance

America wants and needs a debate about health care in the worst way. It's sad to say that's exactly the manner in which the U.S. Senate is going about it.

The so-called "World's Greatest Deliberative Body" may not even take up one of the nation's most pressing domestic issues if Majority Leader Henry Reid can't muster 60 votes this week to override a potential filibuster. That whirring noise you hear? That would be George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson spinning in their graves.

Here's what the Senate should be debating this week: Do Americans have a right to health care insurance, and if so, how does the nation pay for it? Will the current proposals offered by the Senate and the House lower or raise health care insurance premiums? And most important of all, how can the United States regain control of skyrocketing medical costs without curbing the world's greatest medical innovators?

Instead, Americans can expect to hear explanations of the term "cloture," along with weak explanations of why a minority of senators can hold up proceedings on bills of national importance. And even if the Senate does override a filibuster and begin deliberating on health care, the topics most likely to dominate the hearing are abortion, immigration and what appears to be a very watered-down version of the public option.

This failure to focus on the key issues wouldn't matter so much if maintaining the status quo were a reasonable option. But more than 50 million Americans are uninsured, including nearly 200,000 in one of the nation's wealthiest counties — Santa Clara County.

The United States spent $2.4 trillion, or roughly 15 percent of GDP, on health care in 2008, 50 percent more per capita than any other industrialized nation. Spiraling health care costs remain near the top of the list of concerns for the business community, including Silicon Valley. And more than 60 percent of the 1.5 million Americans who filed for bankruptcy in the past year did so because they couldn't pay their medical bills. The majority of them were homeowners and members of the middle class.

The failure to enact health insurance reform must not be an option for Democrats in the Senate. But moderate Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson are lining up with Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman and Republicans to prevent the debate from even starting by mounting a filibuster.

Nelson wants an anti-abortion provision included in the bills being discussed. He's also joining the others in attempts to kill or water down a public option to compete with private insurance companies.

Reid needs to remind senators what's at stake. The list of presidents who have tried to reform health care reads like a who's who in American politics. The House's approval of a bill was the first of its nature in 50 years, and if the Senate effort fails, and history is any guide, it may be years before Congress gets this close again.

This week, the Senate could present one of the most important debates of the last century. It must not let this historic opportunity slip away.