Not ready to junk

Health care needs fixing, not the scrap yard

The debate over health care reform can remind one of starting a car that’s already running. We’ve all heard that distinctive grinding sound. It doesn’t hurt the engine — yet, if you keep doing it, you can ruin the starter — but you look inattentive, and perhaps hard of hearing.

Universal access to health care in the United States is not a new concept. We’ve been trying to get some form of it since the 1854 land grant “Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane” passed Congress but was vetoed by President Franklin Pierce.

Following the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt tried to add health care provisions to the New Deal reforms but was strongly opposed by organized medicine. President Harry Truman also unsuccessfully sought support for national health care. And the late Sen. Ted Kennedy worked for a health care reform from 1971 to his death in 2009. And as Bishop David Ricken notes in his column, “the bishops of the United States have advocated for health care reform for a long time.”

In general, proposals for universal health care came and went on the national scene until the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) passed Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 30, 2010. As of Jan. 31, 2017, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 12.2 million people had health coverage under the ACA.

Since 2010, and especially during the 2016 campaigns, many in Congress have made efforts to “repeal and/or replace Obamacare.” The latest was the Senate Republicans’ July 14 version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act or BCRA (deemed unpassable July 18), which followed the House of Representatives’ American Health Care Act of May 4. (This bill was to be voted on by the Senate July 25, press time.)

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, reacted to the June version of the BCRA negatively. He warned, on July 13, that its plan to restructure “Medicaid will adversely impact those already in deep health poverty.”

Statistics from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) noted that the BCRA would have cut $772 billion from Medicaid by 2026. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit group focused on health care issues, Medicaid supports the most vulnerable. Children make up about half of all Medicaid recipients, nonelderly adults are another quarter, and seniors and people with disabilities are the final quarter.

Recently, one Fox Valley health care leader retired. Dr. Dean Gruner spent 41 years in medicine, first as a doctor and finally as the president and CEO of Thedacare. As he retired on June 16, USA Today asked him about the ACA. In reply, Dr. Gruner noted that most people would say that 80 percent of the ACA is good, while 20 percent needs to be revised.

“When I have heard people in the past few years who (want) to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” he said, “that’s not the way I work in our business. If we make a decision and it’s 80 percent right, I don’t want to throw that out. I want to keep that 80 percent and then take the 20 percent that’s not working so well and make that better.”

The CBO also estimated that, under either of the House’s proposed health care bill in Congress, at least 22 million fewer Americans will have insurance over the next decade. The failed Senate bill would have left 18 million uninsured in just one year. And, should Congress vote to repeal the ACA, the CBO would add 32 million people to the uninsured roll. This would definitely translate into Bishop Dewane’s warning of “deep health poverty.”

So far, the bills proposed by our current federal leadership would cut the fuel from the medical engines of children, seniors and those with disabilities on Medicaid. For another 12.2 million recently insured, whose health care engines have just started running — perhaps the first time — the engine won’t start at all.

Yes, health care reform needs a tune-up, but what we have is not — as some would have — at the point of salvage.

We have a national health care engine, something we never had before. We need to learn how to drive it. Yes, it needs work, but instead of calls to rebuild it from scratch (remember that it took over 150 years to reach this point) — or trying to restart an engine that’s already running — let’s unify our focus on repairs. Health care reform needs a mechanic, but it isn’t ready for a junk dealer.

Why can’t we — Republicans, Democrats and everyone in between — focus on the fact that 80 percent of the current health care reform works? After taking more than 15 decades to get health care reform on the road, our sick and our elderly don’t have the time for us to start from scratch.

Let’s keep the engine running and work on increasing the MPGs as we go.