The headlines Monday morning trumpeted the passage of a bill that will be debated, dissected and tweaked for years to come. Banners like “House makes history” and “Health care history is made” jumped off the front pages of newspapers across the country. Not so fast.

 

The headlines Monday morning trumpeted the passage of a bill that will be debated, dissected and tweaked for years to come. Banners like “House makes history” and “Health care history is made” jumped off the front pages of newspapers across the country.

Not so fast.

While the health care overhaul is indeed a critical piece of social legislation, members of the U.S. Congress and Senate went only halfway to history. The legislation will help millions that lack access to health insurance and quality care, but it is unlikely to hold much benefit for those who have health insurance but struggle to pay exorbitant premiums for mediocre care.

Most importantly, the health care overhaul requires Americans to obtain health insurance, and bans insurance companies from their reprehensible practices of denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and canceling policies when a policyholder gets sick.

The expansion of Medicaid and the inclusion of subsidies for those who can’t afford insurance is expected to bring coverage to 32 million additional people over the next decade. And while its price tag is steep, the program will actually save the government money in the long run. It will cut federal deficits by about $138 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

But while the legislation is likely the biggest change to the U.S. health care system since Medicaid and Medicare were approved in 1965, it simply doesn’t go far enough. That insurance companies won’t be able to deny people coverage anymore is great for consumers. But that most people will be required to get insurance is great ... for the insurance companies. They now have a pool of 30 million people who must become their customers. And there is nothing to ensure insurance companies won’t just pocket all those new premiums while maintaining the status quo — which is unacceptable — for most existing customers.

The most hotly debated aspect of health care reform — a public option — fell by the wayside, mitigating the overall legislation’s impact. The option was victimized by a misinformation campaign, in which opponents inaccurately referred to it as socialism.

Never was there any intention for the federal government to take over the health care system. Rather, the government would provide an option consumers could choose if their private insurance company’s premiums were too high or services too low. The public option would provide some competition to the handful of giant corporations that control most health insurance in the U.S.

Without that competition, there’s no incentive for the corporations to lower rates or improve their service, and no reason for executives not to keep living the high life on the backs of people who are nearly brought to tears every time they look at their pay stubs.

Health care reform has been a strongly debated issue for generations. But the spotlight on the issue has blared more brightly in recent years as health care costs have skyrocketed, along with health insurance costs. Clearly, doing nothing was not an option. At least Congress has taken a step toward a historic health care overhaul.

As residents and politicians realize over the coming years that little has changed for most Americans — and once the outrageous claims that the government wants to take over health care are finally laid to rest — the public option will likely be implemented with very little fanfare. Twenty years from now, people will wonder why it wasn’t part of the plan all along.

The Herald News