Help fulfill the promise of America

Increasing healthcare costs are crushing the budgets of families and American businesses, making us less competitive in the ever-growing global market, positioning Medicare and Medicaid in serious danger, damaging our long-term fiscal stability, and worst of all, causing Americans to continue to go without basic healthcare coverage that in the end continues to drive up health care costs and weaken our economy.

Minorities in general are more in danger of being uninsured and falling victim to frequent emergency visits, increasing debt that leads to bankruptcy and premature death. “We need to put a face on the rising disparities in our healthcare system,” says Dr. Lillie-Blanton, associate research professor in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University.

These huge disparities are a link for disaster and call for serious attention.

To ensure the right kind of healthcare reform, we need a public option that will and can provide a system of healthcare that is publicly driven. The fact is, today over 47 million Americans live without health insurance! In Texas, 27 percent of working adults are uninsured, and of that 27 percent only 12.9 percent actually access healthcare plans such as Medicaid. What is even more important, these numbers only consider those who have lived without coverage in a total year, not a third or half a year. It is estimated that over 86 million Americans lived without health coverage for some extended point during the 2007-2008 year.

Numbers like this give me the understanding that “no” to reform is no longer the answer. The danger of not having healthcare reform is no longer an option.

The continuation of many saying “no” to healthcare reform has led many American businesses to ship jobs overseas and essentially place $1,100 a year of extra premiums on American families to pay for a broken system — putting American taxpayers an extra $50 billion in debt.

In this historic time for healthcare reform, we need to make a united step to fulfill the promise to the American citizens; where our life, liberty, and happiness will not fall to the destruction of a weakening economy, or any other foreign and domestic threat.

Already in America there is an extraordinary initiative for healthcare reform. The leaders of four important groups in the 111th Congress — the Congressional Progressive, Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses — have sent joint letters to President Obama and to the Democratic Leadership of the House and Senate stressing support for enacting legislation this year to assure affordable and robust health insurance plans that give access to all Americans.

Without major change of how we provide healthcare a devastating number of citizens will continue to live without it. People are forced to buy food or healthcare premiums. Putting a face to healthcare is recognizing a young boy named Deamonte Driver, an African American who lived in Maryland. The young boy was 12 years old and was not covered under SCHIP; yet, he was experiencing a toothache and since he was not covered, he went untreated. The toothache was later found to be a tumor that ultimately caused his death. This story is only an hour away from our nation’s Capitol, and this story is occurring across the nation in every neighborhood, rural and urban.

These facts indicate we have a system that permits people to seek care only when they are sick, not to prevent being sick. So what is our current healthcare situation? Our current healthcare situation is not healthcare, but it is sick care, and our system is growing sick, our money is growing sick, our people are growing sick, and I along with many others in the House and Senate are sick of this current system.

If a plan is enacted, our system, money, and people can be cured from this wretched sickness. A public option program similar to Medicaid and Medicare, services such as: (1) early and periodic screening, diagnosis and treatment; (2) case management for chronic diseases;(3) dental and mental health services; (4) and even language access services can be provided. I have always carried the banner of a universal access to healthcare plan that gives all Americans, including Texans, affordable access to healthcare.

Along with many others, I want to ensure all Americans that no one will ever live without quality and affordable healthcare. The congressional Tri-Caucus is introducing a bill to account for the major disparities in our country today. The Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2009 laid out seven priorities to be included in the healthcare reform package: (1) ensure universal and comprehensive access to quality health care; (2) ensure that eliminating health disparities are integrated in the health reform bill; (3) strengthen and coordinate the agencies and offices with health jurisdiction; (4) increase diversity and cultural competence of health and health care professionals; (5) ensure that community-centric health efforts are integrated in health reform; (6) prioritize prevention and promote public health in both clinical and community settings; and (7) bolster data collection expand diversity in clinical trails, and ensure equitable implementation of health information technology.

As a member of the progressive caucus I am pleased that the caucus has established its advocacy on healthcare reform. The issues of interest, among others, are: (1) it should consist of one insurer, established by the federal government, to keep administrative costs low and provide a high standard of care; (2) it should allow patients to have access to their choice of doctors and other providers that meet defined participation standards, as traditional Medicare does; (3) it should not permit cost-sharing mechanisms that favor health insurance industry profits over patients’ need for healthcare, such as what is provided in high-deductible health plans; and (4) it should provide for negotiation with pharmaceutical companies to achieve the lowest prices for consumers.

If nothing is done, and not done now, the consequences far exceed any other materialistic value we can measure, the continuing peril of our American way of life. “What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise,” said the late congresswoman Barbara Jordan. These words resonate in our time and the American people only ask for simple things. Therefore, I and my fellow colleagues are striving to ensure something so simple as providing all Americans a public option form of healthcare, and access to healthcare. The time to make something happen is now.

Jackson Lee is a member of the Progressive Healthcare Reform Caucus.