Health reform requires close scrutiny

Columnist

There’s an old saying, “Act in haste, repent at leisure.” It means that acting too quickly causes major problems later.

The same can be said for health reform. President Obama wants Congress to rush health reform legislation, implying that the “crisis” means there is no time to analyze the details.

That would be a monumental mistake.

The goal should not be to ramrod a bill through Congress this summer. Rather, it should be to carefully build on America’s high-quality health care, meticulously analyze and fix the problems, and encourage innovative solutions.

The president is touring the country saying we can’t afford to wait. That’s what they said about the $789 billion stimulus bill. It was hurried through, voted on by lawmakers who hadn’t read it (“no time, no time!”), but now months later, barely 5 percent of the money has been spent. What was the emergency, exactly?

We don’t want to make the same mistake with health care reform. It’s too important.

Here is what the president and Congress should do.

First, slow down. Thoroughly look at what is working and what is not. Understand the numbers behind America’s 45.7 million uninsured. According to the U.S. Census Bureau:

• Nearly 18 million uninsured lived in households with annual incomes above $50,000.

• Up to 14 million uninsured adults and children qualify for government programs but are not enrolled.

• Some 12 million uninsured are non-citizens.

• About 18 million 18-to-34-year olds are uninsured, most likely because they are young and healthy – health insurance is a low priority for them.

The bulk of those chronically uninsured are part-time workers and those who work for small business. A tax credit for health insurance premiums would ease the problem.

Second, the president’s efforts have put some good ideas on the table. We should thoroughly vet them in an expeditious timeframe and test them to make sure they work before implementation.

Third, the president and Congress need to think about how we pay for health reform.

The current plan calls for taxing employer-provided health plans. But the majority of Americans are insured through their employers and imposing a tax would actually discourage such coverage.

That makes no sense.

The health reforms alone will cost more than a trillion dollars pover the next 10 years. Add that to the trillions for climate change, stimulus and other spending and we’re talking real money – our money.

Fourth, private-sector competition is crucial. President Obama wants a federal “alternative” which opponents fear will use taxpayer subsidies to undercut private plans, leading to government health care. But government run health systems don’t work. In fact, in Canada, private-sector health care is growing. According to the New York Times, a private clinic opens at a rate of about one a week in Canada.

Ironically, the U.S. is headed in the other direction. Rather than repeat the mistakes of government dominated health care, the president and Congress should learn from them.

Fifth, encourage innovation. We need pharmaceutical and technology companies, along with Johns Hopkins and universities to continue to invent new procedures, medicines and high-tech tools that save and extend lives.

Ironically, President Obama’s first choice to shepherd health care reform, former Senator Tom Daschle, complained in his book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis,” that new technology is overused and praised England’s rationing system that controls government costs by denying coverage and banning effective but expensive drugs.

Is that what we want?

Health care is too important to blindly rush it through Congress. To push health care reform through without a definitive analysis of how it will affect us and how we will pay for it would be a travesty.