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Health Care Reform: Progress or Politics?

Last week, President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address, renewing his call for Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform:

One year ago, there was hope that a bipartisan bill could be crafted. Those hopes quickly deteriorated into partisan sniping.

By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.

Two days before, 56 national and state faith organizations, including the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office, sent a letter to Congress, urging members to move forward:

As people of faith, we envision a society where every person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we just commemorated, famously wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Less well known is his admonition that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” 

The road ahead is uncertain but the path has narrowed considerably. With the special election in Massachusetts last month delivering a 41st Republican to the U.S. Senate, Democrats have lost their ability to overcome a filibuster. As such, the only hope for moving health reform legislation forward appears to be for the House to vote on the Senate bill as-is and then attempt to “fix” some of the provisions through a process called “budget reconciliation

One year ago, there was hope that a bipartisan bill could be crafted. Those hopes quickly deteriorated into partisan sniping.  Congressional Republicans have been quick to criticize the current bills, but have offered no real alternative (according to the Congressional Budget Office, a Republican plan presented in the House would cover just 3 million of the estimated 51 million uninsured and reduce the deficit by only half as much as the Senate bill).

Ironically, the plans passed by the House and Senate are fundamentally a Republican approach to reform. The overall structure of the bills look very much like a plan introduced by a Republican governor in 2006 in the state of Massachusetts, where over 97% of residents now have health insurance.

For their part, Democrats, including President Obama, have done a poor job of explaining the woefully complex bill, how it will benefit average Americans, and why reform is needed. Every other “wealthy” nation on this planet (and many not-so-wealthy nations) has some form of universal health care. We pay more per capita for less benefit. Middle class families go bankrupt over one major illness or accident. Small businesses struggle to continue to offer benefits in the midst of soaring premium costs. And an estimated 122 people die every day due to a lack of health insurance.

There is an opportunity before us to at least begin to fix our broken health care system. Let’s not squander it. Contact your Representative today.

For additional resources on health care reform, visit the MCC Washington Office Abundant Life health care page.

Posted: 2/5/2010 7:00:00 AM

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