The Common Good

The Cost of Doing Nothing About Health Care

After nearly a year of our work for health-care reform, the debate seems to be reaching the end. News reports indicate that the president will propose his plan for moving forward, and climactic votes could come soon.

So what are we to make of the current bill? While it is deeply flawed, it nevertheless does extend coverage to 30 million people currently without insurance and provides subsidies for them to purchase it. And despite many disappointments with what a real health-care reform bill could have been, covering 30 million more people is still a big deal. But the most telling argument for finally passing something is that the cost of doing nothing about health care is far greater.

A New York Times report summed up, very starkly, the likely consequences of doing nothing. With no action by Congress, "The unrelenting rise in medical costs is likely to wreak havoc within the system and beyond it, and pretty much everyone will be affected, directly or indirectly."

Nearly every mainstream analysis calls for medical costs to continue to climb over the next decade, outpacing the growth in the overall economy and certainly increasing faster than the average paycheck. Those higher costs will translate into higher premiums, which will mean fewer individuals and businesses will be able to afford insurance coverage. More of everyone's dollar will go to health care, and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid will struggle to find the money to operate ... The higher premiums will also persuade more businesses, especially smaller ones, to decide not to offer insurance. More people who buy coverage on their own or are asked to pay a large share of premiums will find the price too high.

If this happens, estimates are that the number of people without health insurance would increase by more than one million per year (on top of the 49 million currently without coverage), and result in as many as 275,000 deaths over the next 10 years. Do we really want as many as 60 million Americans to be without health insurance in a decade? More families will go deeply into debt, and many will go bankrupt.

I am forced to conclude that while this very flawed legislation may be the lesser of evils, the consequences of inaction to America's families would be far greater. So rather than issuing a moral clarion call to action, let's just hope this finally passes, and then immediately get to work to make it better. If this effort fails, most observers think that Congress might not get back to health care for ten or fifteen years; and all the terrible costs and consequences the Times article analytically predicts are very likely to come true.

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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