Will 2009 be the year our nation finally gets the health reforms we need and deserve? The odds are looking better.

In a strong sign of his commitment to reform, President Obama has set aside $634 billion in his budget to overhaul our health care system. On the heels of the budget announcement, a diverse coalition of health care and consumer groups, including the AFL-CIO, came together to endorse a set of recommendations to help our nation achieve quality and affordable health care.


The recommendations are rooted in the belief that everyone in our country has a stake in ensuring that we make health care more affordable and improve health care quality. We believe that if we don’t take the necessary steps to ensure that we are delivering high quality as well as cost-effective care, then we are ignoring some of the biggest downfalls with our current system.


Working people understand the need for reform. Last year the AFL-CIO conducted an online health care survey that received an overwhelming response from over 26,000 people. Most of those surveyed were employed and insured. But instead of reporting about positive experiences with America’s health care system, these people told heart wrenching stories about bureaucratic nightmares and having to miss treatments for chronic illness because they simply couldn’t afford it.


These stories are just a sampling of what one respondent called the "lucky ones" – those fortunate enough to have coverage. What these stories show is that without improving the quality of care, even those lucky enough to have health insurance may not be getting the care they need. It also shows that the trend of shifting costs onto workers has made coverage less affordable for working families.


Every day doctors and hospitals are working hard to develop and implement efficient, new and innovative treatments. All over the country, technology is reshaping how caregivers and patients get and receive essential health care information. Several landmark reports on quality and safety shortcomings in U.S. health care have given rise to a nationwide effort to improve care by all major stakeholders in the health care debate.


As a nation, we must ensure that we are harnessing these best practices and tracking their effectiveness. We must work to cut down on waste and inefficiency while putting patients first. That’s why the Stand for Quality initiative has called on Congress and the President to ensure that improving and measuring the quality of health care goes hand in hand with the important effort to reduce costs and expand coverage.


The Stand for Quality recommendations can be found at http://www.standforquality.org/Stand_for_Quality_Press_Release.pdf 

John Sweeney is the President of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is the country’s largest labor federation and represents 12 million union members and 3 million retirees.