Over the last few months, I have done my best to follow the policy debate happening first on Capitol Hill and now all over the country. It’s been a crash course for me as I have never paid close attention to this policy area before. I don’t have really strong opinions just yet, but I can’t help sharing a few thoughts. I recognize how important it is to have this debate because the repercussions really do have life and death consequences. While I recognize that the 40-50 million number of uninsured in the U.S. has been twisted and the number that actually are a) citizens or b) don’t have coverage and would like to is much smaller than that, we are still talking about many millions of uninsured. In addition to those millions is the strong possibility that the number could grow.
Second, employers are dropping their health plans; the percentage of people covered through an employer has dropped from 64 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2007, and that decline is likely to accelerate. Why? Because, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, the average annual premium for family coverage has already increased from $5,791 in 1999 to $12,680 in 2008 — a 9 percent annual increase — and a study published in Health Affairs forecasts that national health spending will grow at an average annual rate of 6.7 percent until 2017. Arithmetically, with each year that passes, it becomes harder for companies to keep their health plans without reducing benefits, reducing wages or increasing employee contributions to health plans.
As usual, the fringe of both sides of this debate sound very shrill. The usual accusations are flying about at this point. Here are two examples of what I view as foolish, but can also be shown as somewhat extreme examples of how important an issue this is. The first is a congressman losing his cool during an event. Watch the video. The second involves a short burst of violence at an event in St. Louis.
Here is Steven Pearlstein writing in the Washington Post and also sounding quite shrill. He calls Republicans “political terrorists”, once again exhibiting a short memory and choosing anecdotes to describe the entire opposition. He ends by asking if “this country can function once again as a civil society”. Huh? He appears to be equating this public policy issue to something like WWII (which could be argued). However, his implications that Democrats would not do exactly the same thing should things be reversed is comical.