Medical emergencies should not lead to financial ruin
Regarding The Daily Sentinel’s editorial about my views on health care reform, it’s tough to summarize in 900 words what I would do about an issue that involves close to one-fifth of our nation’s economy, but let me try.
My perspective on this comes from listening to my constituents in Pueblo, to the hundreds I’ve met on the Western Slope struggling with this issue, and to my personal experiences.
About a year ago my aunt Camille had a stroke. To pay her medical bills, she lost her home, her savings and everything she had worked for over a lifetime. In March, she lost her life, dying in poverty.
Sadly, too much of the discussion after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act has been about politics — who won, who lost, and how elections will be affected.
And the congressional response was to focus on political grandstanding by taking the 33rd partisan vote for full repeal, with no replacement plan. In the meantime, citizens of western Colorado struggle every day with rising health care costs.
As a candidate for the U.S. Congress, I know that addressing health care is a daunting task, but I also know that if we work at it, instead of posture about it, we can make progress. It’s time for policymakers to work on reforms before implementation of the ACA is final. When elected, I will sit down with anyone from any party to do just that.
Here are our challenges: Too many Americans are uninsured or underinsured, and can’t find access to affordable, quality care. Costs for small businesses and entrepreneurs are too high. Emergency rooms are swamped with indigent care because too many people don’t have access to general practitioners and prevent-ative care.
Too little has been done to eliminate duplicative or unnecessary procedures, since medical professionals are too often reimbursed based on what they perform, rather than on outcomes.
All of this creates a perfect storm in which health care costs now account for nearly one-fifth of our GDP and millions of Americans remain uninsured, with the rest of us paying for their indigent care.
My core principles on health care are simple: Every American deserves to have affordable access to health care. Nobody should be one medical emergency away from financial ruin. Small businesses should have the ability to provide affordable insurance to their employees without breaking the bank. Rural areas need some special attention.
There are many areas of the ACA that I support, such as prohibiting discrimination for pre-existing conditions, eliminating the doughnut hole for seniors’ medication and allowing recent college graduates to remain on their parents’ health insurance.
I also believe there are areas of the bill that could have been better. For instance, I have concerns with the mandate to require people to buy a product from a company, especially when history has shown that people often are limited in their options for affordable insurance. For some, there might only be one or two available coverage options depending on where they live. A mandate would then require a person to purchase from a monopoly.
One of the ways to deal with costs is to spread them more broadly. That’s what the mandate seeks to do. But if there’s a better way — more tax credits for small businesses, for example — to help with their employees, I’m for it.
I also believe we can reach similar levels of coverage, without penalizing individuals, by providing tax credits to individuals who purchase insurance when their place of work doesn’t provide it.
In Colorado, in bipartisan fashion, we created health exchanges in collaboration with the health care and business communities. They will be a one-stop shop where consumers can compare prices in a statewide marketplace.
We also need to focus more on prevention, and this requires that people take a lot more responsibility for their own health. Smoking, obesity and other things drive up the cost of health care for everyone. Washington shouldn’t dictate all the choices in this area, but if we put in place more incentives for prevention and early detection of disease, we can help reduce costs.
We should also make it easier for small businesses to apply for credits. Right now, the system is too confusing. In 2010, only a small fraction, between 4 percent and 12 percent, of businesses eligible for the credits even applied. Growing up as a son of two small-business owners, I saw firsthand how well-intentioned regulations often created headaches for Mom and Dad.
Congress should also look no further than Grand Junction for models that are successful in lowering health care costs while maintaining quality care. Right here, through collaboration between medical health professionals, providers and nonprofit insurance, Grand Junction has seen significantly lowered costs for consumers and greater access. This model proves that collaboration is more efficient and more effective for the consumer.
Obviously health care is a complicated issue with no silver bullet. No one has all the answers, myself included, but what we need is people who are capable of coming to the table, working together, to address continuing concerns regarding access and affordability. This is not impossible if policymakers put aside their partisanship to serve their constituents first.
As the campaign goes on, I will continue to listen and learn from the people of western and southern Colorado, and I look forward to more thoughtful debate on this issue.
Sal Pace is a state representative from Pueblo and the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.