Health Care Reform - A Balance of Interests

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Normally competing interests have compelling reasons to make significant changes to our entire health care system.

How Is this Possible?

Even with attention focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the upheaval in the automobile industry, and the economic meltdown, the Obama administration is ready to tackle health care reform. Even though transforming our health care system collapsed under the Clinton administration and has proven impossible for previous administrations since Harry Truman, Congress and the administration are already drafting plans for a complete overhaul of this country's medical system. And it looks like we will likely have new legislation ready for the president's signature by October of this year. You wouldn't be alone if you are wondering, "How is this possible?"

For the first time, most of the normally competing interests have compelling reasons to make significant changes to our entire health care system. Individuals and families, insurance companies, doctors and doctors' groups like the American Medical Association (AMA), businesses large and small, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and a determined president are all advocating sweeping changes. Though there are significant differences of opinion in how the system should be overhauled, this moment of broad consensus is rare.

A Confluence of Interests

Naturally, most of this cooperation has to with how money is being spent and wasted. It's no secret that Americans spend more on health care than any other country, but do not receive the highest quality of care. All businesses, notably the automotive industry, have been weighed down, and sometimes crushed by the increasing burden of providing health care coverage for their employees. Doctor's and the AMA have been fighting to limit ballooning medical and malpractice suits for years. Consumers are exasperated if not overwhelmed with the endless upward spiral of health care costs.

Perhaps the single most significant factor delivering this moment of dramatic change is the economy. Health care amounts to about one-sixth of the economy; substantially more than any other industry. As much as thirty percent of health care spending is defined as waste. Though some of that unnecessary cost is lining a few pockets, most of it is going down the drain dragging the entire economy down with it.

Now Is the Time

So, the time has arrived for fundamental changes to the entire health care system. President Obama and others have observed that reform must happen this year if it's going to happen at all. The president's popularity is high, lawmakers are not running for re-election, and consumers are ready for a big change while the economy is depending on it.

The President and Congressional leaders are seeking broad bipartisan support, and to get it the extremes of both the left and right will need to come toward the middle or live with disappointment. Will a single-payer, government-run system emerge as the only solution? Definitely not. Any package that is bound for the president's desk will include preserving the country's private insurance system. Will the whole medical system be released from all government involvement to the manipulations of the market? Unlikely.

The details and even some of the foundational building blocks of the new health care system are undetermined, except for one: Everyone who wants health care coverage will get it.

The deliberations over reform are entering the most hazardous phase of the process, where the devil of the details could heat up more competition than cooperation. So far, thanks to presidential leadership and a real sense of shared responsibility, stakeholders are still working out a deal that promises to be a balance of interests.

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