“To solve the problem [of health care] everyone will have to give and take—we’re all in this together,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) at the CAP Action-hosted event “Health Reform: ‘Now is the Time for Action’” on Friday. A panel discussion on health reform followed Senator Baucus’s speech and included CAP Action Senior Fellow Judy Feder, Political Expert Paul Begala, AEI Resident Scholar Norman J. Ornstein, and National Political Correspondent for TIME Magazine Karen Tumulty.
“We really don’t have an American health care system—we have a hodgepodge, a collection of various different components,” said Chairman Baucus, who stressed that a real American health care system must reflect American culture by combining the public and private sectors. The senator called health reform “the hardest legislative challenge of my life,” but he emphasized that we all have a moral obligation to make this happen and leave the “world in better shape than we found it.”
A strong sense of urgency surrounds health reform and congressional leaders hope to pass legislation before the August recess. Senator Baucus warned that if this deadline is not met there is the danger of losing the current momentum for reform as we head into upcoming congressional and then presidential election cycles. And if action is delayed, problems in the current system will worsen, as 14,000 people lose health coverage every day.
Reform should focus on eliminating the tremendous amount of inefficiency currently in the system, such as repeating tests due to poorly kept records or the wide disparities in costs between different hospitals. To fix these problems the country needs to create a model that is “transparent, integrated, and efficient” argued Chairman Baucus.
The senator also suggested that all Americans have a responsibility to hold health insurance. “Individual obligation is essential [to reform] for several reasons. The daily cost of care for 46 million Americans without insurance is largely borne by those who have insurance.” Therefore reform should also make sure all Americans have some form of coverage to cut out these costs.
The panelists agreed that the good news is that today there is increased support for health reform. “It’s a lot different than 1993 and ‘94, the idea that the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee says we’re going to get this done by August… is a striking change,” said Ornstein. At the moment there is both the political will and public backing to achieve heath care reform.
In the 1990s “it was very scary for people to hear that their health coverage was going to be turned over to bureaucrats,” Tumulty pointed out. “It took us 15 years to find out that our health care has already been turned over to bureaucrats—they just happen to work for insurance companies.”
“There is a larger and stronger ‘amen’ chorus in support of health care reform…and a whole larger progressive movement that is supporting this cause,” said Begala, who was involved firsthand in the Clinton-era attempt at universal health coverage. The panelists agreed that bipartisan support for health care legislation is vital, but noted that bipartisanship is a two-way street. “[Democrats] should say to the Republicans ‘if you come to the table we’re going to cut a deal,’" suggested Ornstein. “But if its clear there’s not good faith negotiations you freeze them out and do it with 50 votes."
The consensus of the panel was that health care reform must—and can—happen immediately. “This is the time to move ahead. Crisis is opportunity and we have a strong shot at getting this done,” Ornstein stressed.