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The health care tab 

One month ago, my father died. Unexpectedly, he had to have open heart surgery and died just a few days later. One week after burying my father, my mother received a hospital bill in the mail for $120,000. Bills from the anesthesiologist soon followed.  At that moment, the need for health care reform became very real and very personal for me.

While the nation is discussing complex ideas about how to reform our health care system, real families are struggling to answer many of the same questions my mother and I were faced with. “Will the insurance company pay for this?” “What if they don't?” Or even worse, “What if I don't have insurance at all?” “Can I even afford to get sick?”  We, as a nation, cannot afford to stand by and do nothing while our fellow citizens suffer in the shadows.

In 2007, the United States spent $2.2 trillion on health care. That's 16 percent of the gross domestic product. This year, health care is expected to account for 18 percent of the gross domestic product.

The various proposals coming out of Congress project that health care reform will cost $1 trillion over 10  years. For me and most likely for you, $1 trillion is an unfathomable amount. To put it in perspective, the war in Iraq is costing Americans $300 million per day. In 2001 and 2003, the wealthiest of Americans received a large tax cut. Those tax cuts will have cost the United States $2.5 trillion by the end of next year.

The good news is that the $1 trillion won't have to grow on trees and all plans provide ways for health reform to be fully paid for. In fact, much of the cost savings will come from reducing inefficiencies in our Medicare and Medicaid programs, such as eliminating overpayments that private insurers receive through the Medicare Advantage program and reducing the cost of prescription drugs in Medicaid. The remaining costs will come from offsets that can help slow the rate of growth of health care costs over time, including imposing a fee on insurance company offerings of high-cost plans and limiting incentives for flexible spending accounts since insurance costs would be capped for consumers. Ninety-six percent of small businesses will not see any tax increases. Only the wealthiest few that have received tax breaks for the past decade will see their taxes increase. For families making less than $350,000 and individuals making less than $280,000, your taxes will be virtually unchanged.

If we do nothing, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that 25 percent of our national economy will be wrapped up in the health care system by 2025. Instead of spending $100 billion a year for the next ten years on health care reform, we'll spend $4 trillion on health care in 2017 alone. In return, we'll receive a population that grows less and less healthy while the number of uninsured people increases.

By reforming the broken system, we can also decrease the national deficit. Your insurance coverage will not be ripped away when you need it most. You'll have health insurance options, even if you lose your job. Our economy will be more productive with healthy workers. Taxpayers won't have to pay for expensive emergency room care for the uninsured for minor illnesses. You won't go bankrupt because of a severe illness.

The time for health care reform is now. We can no longer afford the costs of doing nothing.

 

Adria Kimbrough is a Little Rock lawyer. Her article was provided by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.           

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