Baucus bill imperfect, good

Despite rhetoric that this year’s healthcare debate is too hurried and in haste, the fact is that this discussion and necessary action is long overdue. For almost a century, we have been struggling to improve our healthcare system. The last time we tried, in the 1990s, President Clinton’s health reform proposals failed under the weight of the same type of misinformation running rampant today. Opponents said then the same thing they are saying now, that reform is needed — just not this reform. They made the perfect the enemy of the good. And the enemy won. We cannot let that happen again.

After the Clinton healthcare debate, as a member of Congress, I continued to fight for health reform. The issues that were salient then are even more so now. During a yearlong fact-finding mission, I witnessed patients’ suffering when insurance companies denied coverage for desperately needed medications and procedures. Almost 20 years later, nothing has changed. While some have posited that reform will stifle innovation, the fact is that innovation — a life-saving drug, a breakthrough medical procedure — is useless if it is not affordable. Houses are being foreclosed upon, jobs are being lost and families are in financial turmoil because of our inaction in the 1990s. Inaction now will only condemn struggling families for another 20 years.

Sen. Baucus’s America’s Health Future Act has the fundamental elements of reform that we need. It will make healthcare coverage more accessible for families and businesses and slow the trajectory of rising healthcare costs that threatens to make quality healthcare too expensive for middle-class families. Estimates show that without reform, Americans will spend nearly half of their income on health insurance.

As written, the proposal will end some of the most troubling insurance company practices, such as discrimination based on health status or pre-existing conditions, and coverage caps that seem to limit access to care when it is needed most. It will usher in a new era of efficiency, quality and coordination in healthcare delivery without increasing the federal deficit.

By reforming the healthcare industry, we will fundamentally strengthen close to 20 percent of our economy. Far from being a job killer, this will be a job creator. American businesses will become more competitive when they no longer bear healthcare costs three times that of our major trading partners. And a stable, fiscally sound and sustainable healthcare industry will attract our best and brightest. This will lead to greater innovation and more jobs — opportunities for individuals who want to be in an industry that improves and saves lives. To meet the expected new demand for preventive care, the bill includes incentives to increase the number of primary care doctors in the country.

Through more research, we can spur another era of health innovation. This time, however, that innovation will be within reach of all Americans, not only the wealthy few. We will see more Americans taking advantage of routine medical checkups and preventive care, which will reduce the long-term costs of treating the chronically ill.

In a perfect world, I would have preferred to see additional elements in the Baucus bill. I am a strong proponent of making the same health insurance options enjoyed by members of Congress available to everyone, and when I served in Congress I introduced the Same Insurance as Congress Act to achieve this. Such legislation would give families and businesses the option to join a government-sponsored plan, both to increase competition and to rein in private insurance costs. It would also include uniformity and the option of purchasing insurance across state lines.

But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a good world. And we have a unique opportunity now to overcome the historic battles and focus on what is good. It has taken almost 20 years to get this close to real health care reform. It is incumbent upon our leaders to not squander this opportunity. The cost of inaction truly is the difference between life and death.

Former Rep. Klink (D-Pa.) is a lobbyist whose clients include healthcare
industry interests.