Health care bills are slowly making their way through both chambers of Congress. Last night the House passed a $1.1 trillion bill that would insure an additional 35 million Americans. Importantly, the bill makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny health insurance to those with pre-existing conditions, or to cancel your policy if you develop an expensive disease.
The House bill also calls for a ‘public option’, or government-sponsored health plan available for individual purchase. This isn’t thought likely to survive a Senate vote.
While I was being interviewed on XM Satellite’s Book Radio last week, a caller expressed dismay at the proposed level of government intervention in health care. I sympathized with his point of view. While writing House of Hope and Fear I learned that Seattle’s public hospital, Harborview, remained financially healthy in spite of very little government funding. How? Partly because the hospital needs to compete for business with every other hospital in town. Public hospitals operating primarily on the dole don’t do nearly as well.
But the free market isn’t a cure-all. Private sector success has increasingly come from excluding sick people from needed health care. Nearly one in six Americans is now inadequately insured, or not insured at all, and the problem is only growing worse. No doubt health care reform will be expensive. But doing nothing could cost even more. We pay for universal health care now, and in the priciest way possible — through our Emergency Rooms. This year’s health care bills won’t solve all of our problems, but they look to be a reasonable start.