An imperative that can’t wait

In the coming weeks as Congress considers essential health reform legislation, one thing is crystal-clear: America simply cannot afford the status quo when it comes to healthcare. Healthcare in this country costs too much, insures too few Americans and fails to deliver the quality care we need. It is both unacceptable and unsustainable.

The Obama administration is committed to supporting healthcare reform legislation that protects what works about healthcare and fixes what’s broken. We know we must take action now.

Today, the high cost of healthcare is crushing businesses, family and government budgets. Since 2000, health insurance premiums have almost doubled and healthcare premiums have grown three times faster than wages. Health insurance premiums for families who are covered through a job at a small business increased 85 percent since 2000, and more small businesses are dropping health insurance benefits every day. In 1993, 61 percent of small businesses offered insurance to their employees. Today, only 38 percent offer insurance.

The high cost of care is hurting all of us — whether you have insurance or not. A new study from Families USA found that insured families pay a hidden health tax of more than $1,000 every year. The hidden tax is the amount businesses and families with insurance have to pay to help cover the cost of treating uninsured Americans.

But even after paying the high costs and hidden taxes, we still aren’t getting our money’s worth. A recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Health Research and Quality found that 40 percent of recommended care is not received by patients. Patients are suffering. Our country is home to some of the finest, most advanced medical technology in the world, but healthcare-associated infections — infections caught in a hospital or similar settings — are among the leading causes of death in our nation. Ninety-eight thousand Americans die each year as a result of these and other medical errors — more than car accidents, breast cancer or AIDS.

Prevention and wellness measures that could keep more patients out of the doctor’s office in the first place are lacking. In today’s system, insurance companies deny coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions, and millions more simply cannot afford the care they need.

It’s time to address these problems head-on.

We must help Americans who want insurance but can’t afford it by ensuring that they — and all Americans — can purchase the quality, affordable healthcare that is so important.

We need reform that will improve the quality of care and give doctors the best medical research to help them make the most effective, patient-centered treatment decisions, not just the most costly.

We need reform that eliminates the barriers that leave millions of Americans on the outside of the doctor’s office looking in. We must ensure Americans are not denied coverage by insurance companies because of a pre-existing medical condition, and we must provide insurance security for Americans who lose or want to switch their jobs.

Our reforms will not force patients to make changes they don’t want or need. The president has consistently said that if a family likes the coverage they have, they should keep it. With that in mind, we intend to build on — and strengthen — the existing employer-based system and lower costs for all.

But we know there is room for improvement in the current system — improvements that will save money for families and the government. A recent report from the Council of Economic Advisers indicated that reform could help cut the federal budget deficit, save up to 500,000 jobs, and put more money in your pocket. The report found that for a typical family of four, real income would be about $2,600 more in 2020 than it otherwise would have been — and $10,000 more in 2030 — but only if we make health reform a reality.

We also know that we are closer to enacting reform than ever before. After decades of failure, the hard work done by leaders from both sides of the aisle has brought us near the finish line.

Now, we must deliver for the American people who have waited too long for health reform. It’s time for Washington to deliver for them. The simple fact is that health reform is not a luxury — it is an imperative — and it can’t wait.

Sebelius is the secretary of Health and
Human Services.