Throughout my legislative career, I have been involved in efforts to provide access to high quality, reasonably priced health care for Pennsylvanians who cannot afford the security of life-saving health care coverage. We’ve struggled, fought and have made progress.
In Pennsylvania, we’ve passed landmark legislation implementing far-reaching and nationally-recognized programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and adultBasic. As a result, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who were without decent health coverage have been helped. Despite this success, a great deal of work remains.
Sadly, far too many hard working people have gone without for too long. Yet help may finally be on the way. President Barack Obama has led the fight to bring significant health insurance reform to each and every one of us, save jobs and protect families.
He has asked health insurers to quit denying care to those who are already sick; end the practice of dropping coverage for those who get sick; end huge annual health insurance premium increases (15 percent each year for the last 7 years) that make coverage unaffordable; and extend quality health insurance for 31 million American citizens who now fend for themselves.
Some critics claim this is only a problem for the poor and not middle-income families. I totally disagree. I have worked with far too many people—most of them working people—who have gotten sick and have no coverage. These folks range from nurses, to small business people to retired teachers. They are people who get up each day and provide for their families.
Many have no access to preventive care, or cannot afford the premium costs for employer-provided insurance. Some struggle to afford insurance that comes with extremely high deductibles or co-pays. This is all occurring in a country that has the best hospitals, doctors and health care providers in the world.
The question remains, how much longer can we allow this to continue? How much longer do we idly watch people suffer because they cannot access affordable health care coverage? How much longer do we read about businesses closing their doors because of spiraling costs of health insurance? How much longer do we accept sky rocketing insurance premiums that sock businesses and employees alike? How much longer do we work around the margins of a health care system that does not meet our needs because some are frightened of change?
It has been an ugly fight, marred by far too many lies and scare tactics. Yet, despite the vehemence of special interest-fueled opposition, Congress has teed up major legislation that dramatically advances health care reform. The plans now poised on the precipice of a final vote would help the uninsured and reduce premium costs for those who have health coverage.
We have waited for this moment since before the Panama Canal was finished. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Regan, Clinton, and Bush all pointed to health care as an issue that must be addressed. We’ve waited for this moment for too long because critics and insurance profiteers have been successful in using scare tactics to rally fears of change.
Despite our best efforts in Pennsylvania—including a sustained push from Gov. Ed. Rendell earlier in his tenure—it is clear that there will be little movement on comprehensive health care reform. That’s why federal action is so imperative.
We can wait no longer. Doing nothing—again—is not an option. The cries of hard working American people who have suffered needlessly are echoing and resonating. For those of us who have labored so long for health care reform in America, we have never gotten this close.
The real question is whether we will rise to the occasion or shy away from the fabricated controversy, fail the nation and fail ourselves. For the millions who are suffering, we must act now, turn back the politics of fear and rally for change.
Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) is Democratic Chair, Senate Health and Welfare Committee and Senate Democratic Caucus Chair.