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Op-ed: Health Care Reform Can't Wait


Location: Washington, DC

Last year, I spent a day traveling in my district with Bill and Donna Fair of Moline. Bill and his son Eric lost their health insurance after Butler Manufacturing closed its Galesburg plant in 2005. Eric then had to work for temp agencies and did not qualify for health care. Eric started having chest pains but because he did not have health insurance he was afraid to go to the doctor. Shortly thereafter, Eric died of heart failure. During our tour of the district, a member of the press asked Bill if he was upset that God took his son. Bill responded: "God did not take my son. The system did."

For families like the Fair's and in an effort to promote an open and honest discussion on health care reform, I recently held a series of listening sessions with my constituents. I heard numerous personal stories from families who want, support, and need change. Their message was clear: the time for health care reform is now.

The skyrocketing cost of health care is one of the greatest threats to our nation's economic growth and long-term fiscal stability. By 2016, Illinois residents will have to spend almost 50 percent of median household income to buy health insurance for themselves and their families, an 85 percent increase from 2008. Copayments and deductibles are also set to rise in Illinois. By 2016, the average deductible will be more than $2,300, a 57 percent increase from 2008. Without comprehensive reform that actively addresses these issues, quality health insurance will continue to be put out of reach for America's working families.

The rising cost of health care threatens our economy by undermining the ability of companies to compete in the global marketplace. American employers currently spend more than twice as much on health care as their foreign competitors, creating a severe disadvantage. In 2008 alone, employees' out-of-pocket health care expenses rose by more than 10 percent. Small businesses have been hit the hardest, with health insurance costs rising by a staggering 129 percent since 2000.

Spending on health care represents the fastest growing segment of the federal budget. Our nation currently spends $2.5 trillion a year on health care, or 17 percent of the overall Gross Domestic Product. Without reform, government projections estimate that by 2018 health care spending will make up more than one-fifth of our total economy, and the government share of that cost will surpass 50 percent. By creating a more manageable and efficient system, we can stabilize long-term costs and reduce wasteful spending.

Our current health care system is inefficient and unaffordable for far too many Americans. The federal government estimates that over 45 million individuals did not have health insurance in 2008, over 1.5 million of whom resided in Illinois. This has led to an annual cost of $56 billion in uncompensated care that must be absorbed by the system, increasing premiums for everyone.

Reforming the health care system is a necessary step in rebuilding our economy. The economic crisis has made a bad situation worse. Lost jobs mean lost health care, and since the beginning of the recession an estimated 4 million additional Americans have lost their health insurance. Without reform that makes it easier for employers to afford health care costs, our country could see millions more unemployed and without benefits.

President Obama has called on Congress to enact health care reform this year and the House is expected to consider legislation by July 31. I believe any bill should emphasize four clear goals. First, we must contain costs through the use of information technology. Secondly, we must improve quality. Currently, only 4 cents of every health care dollar is spent on prevention and public health. Thirdly, we must preserve a patients right to choose the plan and the doctor that they wish. I support legislation that builds upon the current system of employer-based care, so those who like what they have will be able to keep their current plans. Lastly, we must reduce the number of uninsured by making quality and affordable health care available to all.

Health care reform in America has never been more important and more attainable than now. Groups and stakeholders from across the political spectrum have come together to demand action on health care reform, many of whom have led the opposition in the past. Families like the Fair's can't afford to wait. Our economy can't afford to wait. America can't afford to wait. Join me in supporting comprehensive health care reform.

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