Health care crisis getting the attention it deserves



During last fall's election, Democrats made it clear that the nation's health care crisis would be a top priority if they took control of Congress.
Republicans, who lost the House and Senate in the November election, have already seen that the new majority intends to move quickly to keep the promises made on the campaign trail. Thus, GOP legislators aren't wasting any time jumping on the health care bandwagon.
Indeed, even President Bush seems to have realized this is an issue that won't go away. Americans are demanding action.
Thus, when Bush delivers his State of the Union address tonight to a joint session of Congress, he will outline his proposal for dealing with the dual challenges of reducing the number of uninsured and holding down health care costs.
While it is encouraging to see that health care is now on the front burner in Washington, we would caution the president and members of Congress not to let political expediency control the debate.
Health care has been used as a political football ever since President Clinton appointed his wife, Hillary, now a U.S. senator from New York and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, to develop a national health care plan.
Republicans in Congress refused to give the plan -- granted, it was complicated and costly -- serious consideration. It died on the legislative vine.
State initiatives
In the years since, the health care crisis has grown so dramatically the states such as Massachusetts, California and New York have taken steps to ensure that all their residents, including the poor, have access to some sort of coverage.
As the number of uninsured rises -- it stands at 47 million today -- the financial ramifications are enormous.
The Mahoning Valley is a microcosm of what is going on nationally. Businesses faced with increasing health insurance premiums because of escalating medical costs are either requiring employees to pay more for coverage or withdrawing coverage all together.
Individuals without insurance use hospital emergency room doctors as family physicians and more often than not are unable to pay for the care. The same is true for hospital stays.
That forces the hospitals to either absorb the costs, or pass them along though price increases, which ultimately result in higher insurance premiums.
This vicious cycle is taking its toll.
Indeed, health care costs are cited as one of the main reasons American automobile manufacturers are at a competitive disadvantage with foreign companies.
Richard Wagoner, president and chief executive officer of General Motors Corp., has urged action from Congress, pointing out that health care obligations to workers and retirees add about 1,500 to the cost of producing a GM car.
There are many factors that have converged to bring us to where we are today, which is why political expediency should not control the debate.
The time has come for a sensible national health care plan that addresses the needs of the 47 million uninsured and deals with runaway costs.

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