Is some health care reform better than none?

Obama health care reformPresident Obama's calls for bipartisan health care reform reminds me of pleas during the holiday season for "peace on earth and goodwill to men." It's nice in theory but nearly impossible to implement.

The reform proposed by Obama today would merge parts of the reform plans passed by the Senate and the House. It will not be cheap, costing about $1 trillion over 10 years. Moreover, it would allow the government to roll-back insurance premium increases that it considers "egregious." It seeks to merge the bills that passed without Republican support in both houses of Congress and are stalled in conference committee.

Obama is trying to address fears that he is pushing a government-run health care plan. Advocates were unhappy that he was backing away from plans for a government-run health care system, which they say was key to reform. Of course, now health insurers are livid.

"It's time to stop the politics of vilification and focus on what Americans need most: real health care reform that addresses the serious and urgent problems facing our nation," says America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) President and CEO Karen Ignagni in a press release.

Business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers acknowledge that something needs to be done about reigning-in employer-based health care premiums, which it estimates have have increased 120% since 1999, and are making it harder for U.S. business to compete in the world economy. Officials from NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce could not be reached for comment.

The question that will need to be answered in Washington is whether something is better than nothing when it comes to health care reform. Like everything else in this infuriating debate, the answer is "depends." Brad Herring, an assistant professor at the at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells WalletPop that he wants something done though he thinks that Obama's plan regulating premiums would be unnecessary if the reforms that were in place were adequate.

"How will the government determine what is an egregious premium increase?" he asks, adding that the Republican call to scrap the whole process and start discussions with a "clean sheet of paper" is not the answer either. "I don't think their desire is to produce a comprehensive bipartisan bill. Their desire is to stop this one."

Unfortunately, like art, pornography and classic rock, health care reform is in the eye of the beholder. The same goes for bipartisan. What's reform to conservatives is not reform to liberals. Washington has become so toxic that Democrats and Republicans will not even look at each other let alone forge compromises for the good of the country.

Meanwhile, 31 million people go without insurance in this country. Illness or medical bills contribute to about two-thirds of personal bankruptcies. The study was based on 2007 data, before the economic crisis made matters worse.
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