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October 21, 2014

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Sun Editorial:

Fixing a broken system

Congress should act swiftly to pass health care reforms sought by President Obama

An Illinois man who was undergoing chemotherapy lost more than his health care coverage when his insurer discovered that he hadn’t reported gallstones that he didn’t know about. The delay in treatment cost him his life.

A woman in Texas preparing for a double mastectomy suddenly was prevented from going through with the surgical procedure because she forgot to tell her insurer about a case of acne. Her insurance was reinstated but not before her breast cancer had doubled in size.

These tragedies represent what is really going on in America on a daily basis, the result of a broken health care system that has been neglected by Congress for far too long. It is why President Barack Obama, in a stirring speech delivered Wednesday night before a joint session of Congress, cited those two examples as reasons why lawmakers must act swiftly to enact much-needed health care reform.

Obama made an impressive case for reform, offering a detailed and achievable plan that represents a stark contrast to the empty scare tactics and lies from Republican naysayers who have no interest in fixing what is broken.

There won’t be any death panels for seniors, coverage for illegal immigrants, communistic government takeovers, federally funded abortions or runaway deficit spending, as Republicans have suckered too many of their constituents into believing. There never were.

There is no reason for anyone to lose his cool, as Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., did when he shouted “You lie!” after Obama denied that his plan would cover illegal immigrants. Wilson apologized to Obama shortly thereafter — and the president accepted — but we believe other Republicans should apologize as well for intentionally misleading Americans in an attempt to score cheap political points.

They owe it not only to the more than 46 million Americans who are without health insurance, but also to tens of millions of others who have inadequate coverage or are at risk of losing their insurance because of a new job or trip to the unemployment line.

What is not to like about the fact that Obama’s plan would allow Americans to keep their existing health coverage? What is not to like about the fact that Americans could get insurance despite preexisting conditions? How could anyone argue against the benefits of allowing Americans to retain their coverage even if they change or lose their jobs? How could anyone oppose a plan designed to trim the nation’s budget deficit by $4 trillion by reducing wasteful spending?

There is nothing that promotes the spirit of capitalism more than good old-fashioned competition, the kind envisioned by Obama in his proposal to establish an insurance exchange to help individuals and small businesses shop for affordable health care coverage at competitive prices. As the president aptly stated, the bargaining leverage that participants in the exchange would have as one big group would be the same as that enjoyed by large corporations and government employees.

It was also a good idea for Obama to propose that all Americans carry at least basic health insurance, drawing a reasonable parallel to laws that require motorists to have auto insurance.

By also incorporating ideas from Republicans — including Sen. John McCain, his general election foe last year — the Democratic president has shown a willingness to reach across the aisle when confronted with opposition party proposals that make sense. These include McCain’s idea to provide low-cost coverage to protect individuals from financial ruin if they become seriously ill, and a plan to reduce the health care costs associated with defensive medicine as practiced by physicians who are fearful of malpractice lawsuits.

“But know this,” Obama told Congress, “I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than to approve it. I won’t stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in this plan, we will call you out ... And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.”

Republicans, are you listening?

We certainly hope so. By failing to enact these reforms, Congress would be sending a terrible message to the American people. Congress, in effect, would be saying that it is OK that insurance premium costs have risen three times faster than wages and that there is nothing wrong with forcing insured individuals to pay $1,000 per year on average to defray the costs of emergency care for the uninsured.

Congress has a fiscal responsibility to rein in runaway health care costs, as well as a moral obligation to ensure that all Americans are afforded the right to receive adequate medical care so they can live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

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