After widespread press coverage of “death panels” and boisterous August town halls, many Americans might well be wondering if it's déjà vu all over again—will 2009 be a replay of 1994?
With the unveiling of the Senate Finance Committee's proposal for health reform last month, our country is actually the closest it's ever been to enacting comprehensive reform. While not perfect, this bill has many elements that are broadly appealing across the political spectrum. As such, the odds are good of its becoming the foundation for a bipartisan consensus, if not now then at some point in the future.
The passage of reform would be historic—not just for reducing the ranks of the uninsured but by offering historic benefits to the middle class.
For Americans who already have coverage, reform will mean more stability, more security and less anxiety:
- Insurers will no longer deny someone coverage or charge higher premiums because of a pre-existing condition such as a heart problem, diabetes or cancer.
- If you lose a job, change a job, or start a small business, there will be more options for affordable private coverage through a new electronic “exchange.”
- Small business owners and individuals who can't afford premiums will get help.
- Annual and lifetime caps on benefits will be banned. Families will never need worry that they'll face huge hospital bills because their benefits have run out.
- Seniors will see the “donut hole” in their prescription coverage shrink at least by half.
- The legislation will control spiraling healthcare costs to keep the Medicare trust fund viable and the budget on track.
Central to these reforms is an agreement by the pharmaceutical industry to reduce drug costs by $80 billion over the next 10 years. Without the ongoing support and cooperation of pharma in reform negotiations, the historic deal would never have come to pass. It is this kind of support that makes reform much more likely to succeed.
The coming weeks will test Washington's resolve to enact reform. If lawmakers and stakeholders can stand firm in their commitment to reform, America's middle class will greatly benefit. David Kendall is senior fellow for health policy, Third Way