The Star-Ledger

Health Care System Holds Us Hostage

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board

Kia Moore made a chilling but apt analogy. The Camden mom, who has waited months to get her 20-month-old son Xavier a kidney transplant because of a squabble over insurance, said she felt as if "we're held hostage by the insurance companies, and the lawmakers are allowing that to happen."

Moore's plight, reported in yesterday's Star-Ledger, is all too common. As more people lose their jobs in the economic collapse, the numbers of uninsured are expected to rise — another reminder of the vulnerability of employer-based health care.

Moore had her say during a series of meetings held by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to gather concerns of state residents in anticipation of the health care reform debate in Washington.

The stars are aligned for real reform: President Obama signaled the seriousness of his intent with what he called a down payment of $630 billion over the next 10 years to finance reform, and he signed into law an updated version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, providing a stable source of funding to make the program reach more children in need of coverage.

Perhaps more important, Obama has shown a willingness to tackle costs and compare medical care based on how efficiently and effectively patients are treated. His challenge will be to convince Americans that less is more — studies have shown fewer procedures and interventions are more cost effective and result in better outcomes for patients. We've already adjusted to limited hospital stays, so this might not be too much of a leap.

Although there are still no specifics on how the Obama team would overhaul the system, that hasn't stopped fearmongers from bleating about the evils of "socialized medicine" in Britain and Canada. They conveniently forget that the American system continues to fail many of its citizens.

Families USA, a Washington advocacy group, drove the point home with a report estimating 33 percent of Americans under 65 were without health care coverage in the last two years, with Hispanics most likely to be lacking insurance. In New Jersey, 32 percent were uninsured during the study period. Of the state's 2.4 million uninsured, 81 percent were members of working families. Sixty percent of housholds with incomes of $42,400 or less had no coverage.

Would nationalized health care destroy private insurance plans? If those plans deny people care because of cost and coverage restrictions, that's no great loss to the American people.

Obama said at the White House forum on health care reform last month "those who seek to block any reform at any cost will not prevail this time around."

Like Kia Moore, we've waited long enough.

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