Healthcare: Moral imperative, fiscal imperative

 The statistics tell the story. Our nation spends $7,421 per person on healthcare, but nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured. Millions of Americans have insurance, but it doesn’t give them the coverage they need. The number of families deemed underinsured has risen 60 percent in the last five years and more than half of all Americans, both insured and uninsured, cut back on healthcare due to skyrocketing costs.

The average employer-based family insurance policy cost $12,680. If you worked for minimum wage, you could spend virtually your entire salary on healthcare alone. Costs have gotten so high that nationwide, we spend more money on healthcare than we do on food.

Today, there are people who say we need to defer healthcare reform — that at a time of economic crisis, we have to accept the status quo because we cannot afford to fix our healthcare system. What these people fail to acknowledge is that the skyrocketing cost of healthcare — straining family budgets, crippling businesses and consuming government budgets — is one of the greatest threats there is to America’s fiscal health.

That is why we cannot delay this discussion any longer. Healt care reform is no longer just a moral imperative; it is a fiscal imperative. If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, then we must address the crushing cost of healthcare this year.

President Obama is working for reform that will reduce healthcare costs, protect a patient’s choice of doctor and insurance plan and assure quality affordable healthcare for all Americans.  He believes that we must build on what works in our current system and fix what’s broken.

That means ensuring Americans who like the care they have can keep it, while ending the barriers that often prevent Americans with pre-existing conditions from getting the care they need.

It also means creating a new health insurance exchange will give Americans the chance to compare the benefits offered and the cost of insurance plans. And when Americans are shopping in that exchange, they should have the choice of selecting a public health insurance option. A public health insurance option will keep insurance companies honest and help encourage competition that will bring down the cost of care for all of us.

We can achieve these goals without adding to our budget deficit. The president has proposed $950 billion in savings and revenue to finance health reform, and we are continuing to work with Congress to ensure reform is deficit-neutral.

Our work with Congress and stakeholders is already bearing fruit. Today, we are closer to reform than ever before.  Legislation that reflects the President’s principles is emerging from the three committees that have been working together in the House and from the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Senate Finance Committee is working hard on a bill and making progress.

Old enemies are working together. Industry groups that were once fierce opponents of reform now recognize that we cannot wait and allow the status quo to continue.

Now it’s up to us to seize this incredible opportunity. After decades of trying to reform our health care system, we can improve health care for all Americans and make reform a reality.

DeParle is director of the White House Office of Health Reform, and counselor to the president.