We finally have real health care reform bills ready to be vigorously debated in both houses of Congress. Near universal health coverage for Americans is on the horizon. It is incumbent on representatives in both the House and the Senate to pass this legislation.
The proposed legislation would provide coverage for about 36 million people, or about 96% of Americans. It also contains provisions for a decent, though not "strong," public option - the keyword being option, not takeover - as well a mandate for most Americans to obtain health insurance and for employers with a payroll less than $500,000 to provide coverage to their employees. Those who do not follow the mandates will be subject to penalty.
According to press reports, by the most common measuring standards the legislation will cost approximately $1.05 trillion over the next 10 years. However, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, this price tag would be completely offset by cuts in the growth of Medicare and new fees and taxes on individuals, families, and businesses. In fact, the Budget Office projected that the bill would reduce the federal budget deficits by $104 billion over the next 10 years.
Wait, what are these new fees and taxes on individuals, families, and businesses? And hey, any reform that costs over $1 trillion can't be worth it, right?
Let's come together and face reality on one point. Any bill that passes Congress which looks to change an entire system will have a hefty cost. You can't meaningfully reform health care for nothing. So yes, this legislation has a high price tag, but to discount it just for that reason and not listen to how it will be paid for is intellectually ignorant and morally irresponsible.
The new legislation would make health insurance required and fine those who fail to obtain coverage, with exceptions made for low-income individuals who would be disproportionately adversely affected by such fees. This is not a new or innovative idea; all but two states require citizens to have automobile insurance. A person's health is at least just as valuable and deserves to be insured at least as much as an individual's car.
There will also be a new surtax on the wealthy - individuals making over $500,000 per year and couples making over $1 million per year - and an excise tax on high premium insurance policies, commonly referred to as "Cadillac plans."
This use of money from the more wealthy to better the nation as a whole is completely acceptable, despite our country's incessant fear of socialism. We have certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To deny someone health care coverage is to deny them these rights. Therefore, in order to preserve and protect the most basic rights of our citizens, we ask some of the most fortunate to pay extra; there is nothing reprehensible about such a system. To argue otherwise - that is right to deny certain individuals their fundamental human rights because they don't have the money to pay for them and at the same time it is wrong to use someone else's money to help guarantee these human rights - is morally reprehensible. The preservation of essential human rights on a mass scale is objectively more valuable than protecting the ideals of free-market capitalism.
That being said, this is still not a complete socialization of the health care system. The public option is just that, an option, no matter what Lou Dobbs or Congressional Republicans say. In fact, the socialization that does take place is doing so within a larger framework of capitalism, as the guiding principle in the creation of the public option is that increased competition is good for the consumer and keeps prices down. To argue against this proposed legislation on the ideological basis of being anti-socialism is a gross oversimplification of facts and an irresponsible cop out.
It is time to stop denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
It is time to stop dropping people from their health insurance plans when they get sick. It is time to allow a government bureaucracy without a profit motive to compete with private bureaucracies. It is time to definitively ensure the rights of life, liberty, and happiness. It is time to pass health care reform.
Jesse Goldberg is a sophomore English major who needs this legislation to pass because, in the finest tradition of English majors, he'll be unemployed and uninsured in two years.