Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Our foreign rivals don't face these health care costs

You've heard the naysayers complaining that President Barack Obama's $634 billion down payment on health care reform costs too much. We're in a global economic crisis, they say. How can we afford it?

But, having opposed reform for years, in good times and bad, their argument for leaving our health care system broken doesn't compute. By looking at costs but not benefits, they pretend not to know what the advantage of health care reform really is -- and why it's a major benefit to us all.

Think of it this way. You wouldn't balance your checkbook by counting the checks you've written, then ignoring the deposits you've made. That's exactly what many opponents of the Obama plan do, even though they know good health care is intrinsically linked to the health of our economy. 

Take housing. Recent surveys of homeowners in foreclosure showed that 25 percent to 50 percent fell behind on their payments because of a medical crisis. That means at least 1.5 million households are at risk of losing their homes each year to the high costs of medical care.

What's astonishing is that most of the people who fell behind had insurance, but not enough to cover the full costs of their medical treatment. A medical crisis isn't something one can put off. If you or a loved one breaks a leg, you go to the hospital.

Health care also affects wages. Take-home pay for most Americans hasn't risen for nearly a decade. Even if you were lucky enough to get a raise, the rising cost of insurance premiums almost always outpaced the additional income.

Health care costs have been rising 6 percent each year. Families now spend on average nearly $13,000 per year for their insurance. As reported in Americans for Democratic Action's "Unhealthy Handouts for Health Care," this staggering increase in cost hurts businesses as well as families.

The majority of Americans get insurance through their job. But now, fewer businesses can afford the benefit, so they're canceling it or passing the cost on to their employees. We can't compete internationally with other businesses when their governments offer publicly funded health care, which only the United States, among the world's industrialized nations, doesn't have.

Put that one simple fact in the context of today's news: The Big Three automakers could save $1,000 or more in overhead costs on every car they build just by moving their plants across the border from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, because the Canadian government has a national health service that covers every citizen. We need to level the playing field now or face further job losses as businesses outsource in order to survive.


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