The Republicans who are newly in charge of the House of Representatives have decided to spend the first week of the 2011 Congress on a big waste of time: an effort to repeal last year's health care reform legislation, will pass the Republican-dominated House but be stopped by the Democratic majority in the Senate, and in any case would be vetoed by President Obama the second it hit his desk. So this effort is destined to fail, but they want to make a point.
They're calling this proposed legislation the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." Why is health care reform "job-killing," you might ask? Republican Congressman Peter Roskum will tell you: "the health care bill that's now the law is actually a job-killing health care bill," he said on All Things Considered last night. "And I've experienced that in my district where manufacturers have said, I'm not hiring new people," presumably because they can't afford health care insurance for their employees. This is now the Republican and conservative line on health care reform.
The thing is that this argument highlights the fact that our current health insurance system is totally and completely broken. We have a system of mostly private insurance, provided mostly through employers - but employers can't afford the cost of health insurance. More and more people are losing their employer-provided insurance coverage every year, but buying insurance on the individual market is almost impossibly expensive. As a result, we now have more than 50 million people in America without health insurance, or about 1 in 6 of us. Every one of those 50 million people is going to get sick or hurt eventually, at which point they will either show up at an emergency room or go to a doctor they can't afford. They won't be able to get health insurance then because they'll have a "pre-existing condition," and eventually they could go bankrupt from out-of-pocket health care costs. In 2005, researchers (including Elizabeth Warren, the current advisor to the President in charge of the new consumer protection bureau) estimated that half of all personal bankruptcies in America were tied to health care costs. Those numbers are surely different after the foreclosure crisis, but the numbers are still astonishing.
So what should we do? Well, for starters, let's fully fund the health reform law so that it actually has a chance to work. But most importantly, we have to keep up the national conversation about the corruption of the insurance industry and the need, ultimately, for a strong public option or Medicare-for-all program.