Editorials, Opinion Pieces Respond to Recent Action on Health Reform
The following summarizes recent editorials and opinion pieces responding to health reform action over the last week.
Akron Beacon Journal: The "general response to the voluntary commitment" by health care industry groups regarding their pledge to reduce health care spending growth "is a decidedly skeptical, 'Yeah. We'll believe it when we see it,'" a Beacon Journal editorial states. The editorial continues, "And for good reason" because the groups "represent a multitude of conflicting self-interests that have derailed many a reform effort." The groups' proposals "offer the broadest of brush strokes, with a promise the specifics will be presented soon." The editorial concludes, "Until then, skeptics correctly note that all that has been offered so far is a promise of collaboration with no means of enforcement and no guarantees" (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/13).
Bergen Record: The groups' vow "is a sure sign that they realize [President] Obama is serious -- and that the public won't be lulled into complacency this time around by" efforts to "end the discussion" on health reform, according to a Record editorial. "They will not be satisfied with empty promises," the editorial states, adding, "All those who have profited at the expense of patients should be held to their word that they are committed to true reform -- meaning equitable, accessible and affordable health care for all" (Bergen Record, 5/12).
Boston Globe: While "there isn't enough meat in" the health industry groups' pledge to reduce spending growth, the move is still "encouraging, because it shows that the industry is worried by the prospect of government-mandated savings if costs continue to climb," a Globe editorial states. The editorial recommends that as "Congress devises a reform plan to make health care sustainable, it should have the Congressional Budget Office weigh measures like these and any that the industry comes up with" (Boston Globe, 5/17).
Boston Globe: A proposal to tax employer-sponsored health benefits to help pay for expanded health coverage "could suffer the ignominious fate of 1988's catastrophic care plan" for Medicare beneficiaries, which was "wildly unpopular" and repealed in 1989, a Globe editorial states. "If the president and Congress want to reduce the ranks of the uninsured, they need a way to pay for it," though a "careful" examination of a recent poll showing low support for taxing employer health benefits "could steer them away from a 1989-style crack-up" (Boston Globe, 5/18).
Des Moines Register: Obama and Congress "should encourage the private sector to save the $2 trillion over the next 10 years" and "[t]hen lawmakers should create a public health insurance option for all Americans," according to a Register editorial. The editorial concludes that with these joint plans, "Everyone would be doing their part to control costs and get people covered." The editorial adds that the "country could end up with a vastly improved health care system" (Des Moines Register, 5/12).
Financial Times: The pledge health industry officials made on Monday to reduce health care costs is "far less than the breakthrough Mr. Obama claimed," a Financial Times editorial states. According to the editorial, the promised reduction in cost is "no more than an aspiration," as "[n]one of the parties is formally committed to any part of it, and there is no mechanism for enforcement or accountability" of the insurers (Financial Times, 5/13).
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: It is "a rare sight indeed to see an industry leader ask for greater government regulation," but that is what Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, did at a recent Senate hearing, a Star-Telegram editorial states. The editorial notes that Ignagni said that AHIP's "members 'accept the premise that the [U.S. health care] system is not working today and needs to be reformed.'" According to the editorial, the health insurance industry has been "backpedaling furiously to forestall its worst nightmare: a Medicare-style public plan that potentially could drive private insurance companies out of business." The editorial concludes, "Even if the public insurance plan does not come to fruition, its threat is forcing significant and long-overdue private health insurance reform. Now that is progress" (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/10).
Houston Chronicle: Obama's "refusal to back away from fixing health care -- and fixing it soon -- apparently is bringing many heretofore reluctant parties to the table," given industry officials' stated goals to reduce costs, a Chronicle editorial states. Although "some of this talk is pure semantics," Obama should "[h]ang tough" and keep reform efforts "at the top of his agenda," the editorial states (Houston Chronicle, 5/14).
Miami Herald: The recent promises of private insurers to reduce costs "are only words, not guarantees," a Herald editorial states. According to the editorial, "If we have learned anything at all from decades of failed attempts to reform the way Americans get medical care, it's that promises, good intentions and voluntary guidelines don't work" (Miami Herald, 5/15).
PittsburghTribune-Review: Obama's health reform plan will do "the exact opposite of its stated goal," the editorial says, adding, "Government health care won't lower costs; it will raise them. Government health care won't increase quality; it will lower it. And government health care won't widen access to care; it will constrict it" (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 5/13).
San Francisco Chronicle: "The signs" for accomplishing health care reform this year "are awfully encouraging," but "trouble lurks just below the surface," according to a Chronicle editorial. "If he wants this to get done right, Obama is going to have to engage Congress on every aspect of the legislation," but unfortunately "for now, the White House is being relatively quiet on specifics, preferring to let Congress hash out the details" -- a tactic that almost "derailed" the economic stimulus package, the editorial states (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/17).
Salt Lake Tribune: Promises made by health industry officials are "vague and unenforceable," but they also show that "the moguls of medical money know that they're in for a fight," a Tribune editorial states. According to the editorial, "For now, they want to play nice, making a show of cooperation," a strategy that "could change if the president and his Democratic colleagues in Congress stick with their decision to provide a public plan to supplement private insurers" that might create too much competition for the private market to flourish (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/12).
- Wayne Madsen, Arizona Daily Star: "Americans should push for a single-payer system like the ones currently enjoyed by Canadians and most Europeans," which would allow everyone to "be covered for virtually every medical expense and regain the cherished right of freely choosing their doctors and hospitals," Madsen, a contributing writer to the Online Journal, writes (Madsen, Arizona Daily Star, 5/11).
- Grace-Marie Turner, Arizona Daily Star: If Congress gives "the government plan the power to dictate prices so it can artificially underprice private plans and drive them out of this one-sided 'marketplace,'" many people "then would be left with little or no choice, as employers would drop their current coverage and send their workers into the public plan," Galen Institute President and founder Turner writes. She adds, "Once private plans have been driven out of the market, people will realize that the government plan will not be able to sustain the quality and quantity of benefits they were promised" (Turner, Arizona Daily Star, 5/11).
- Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Chicago Sun-Times: "President Obama and Congress have made it a top priority to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation this year that lowers costs, improves quality, increases coverage and preserves patient choice of plan and doctors," Rush writes, adding that if "[l]eft alone, our broken health care system will cost the American people another $2.2 trillion. ... Families cannot wait. America cannot wait" (Rush, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/11).
- David Sirota, Denver Post: The "little-noticed message" from Monday's announcement that six major health industry groups will seek to reduce the annual growth rate for health spending was that the companies "implicitly acknowledged they were plotting to fleece consumers and have been fleecing them for years," columnist Sirota writes. An "obvious question is why Obama would engage those particular thieves," Sirota writes, adding, "Is it a pol's payback for campaign cash? It is an overly cautious lawmaker's paralysis? Is it a conciliator's desire to appease powerful interests?" or "is it something else?" The piece concludes, "For a president who spends so much time on camera answering questions, these have become the biggest unanswered questions of all" (Sirota, Denver Post, 5/15).
- Henry Simmons/Mark Goldberg, Des Moines Register: There are three reasons why cost-containment is "urgently required" in any health care reform plan, Simmons and Goldberg, of the National Coalition on Health Care, write. They write, "First, rising costs are causing more and more Americans to be without any coverage." They continue that "health care cost escalation has negative impacts throughout the economy." They also write that "sustained increases in health care costs are driving up federal and state health care spending at rates that are themselves unsustainable" (Simmons/Goldberg, Des Moines Register, 5/15). In a second opinion piece Simmons and Goldberg recommend cost cutting strategies (Simmons/Goldberg, Des Moines Register, 5/16).
- Steve Jacob, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The only way to reduce health care costs is to reduce demand," Jacob, publisher of the Star-Telegram, writes. Jacob continues that the "problem is that the U.S. health care system goads providers to give -- and patients to consume -- too much care." He adds that any reform plan needs to "attack access and cost with equal fervor." Jacob writes, "We need to embrace the principle that more expensive health care is not better health care," concluding, "It is simply more" (Jacob, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/9).
- Dick Morris, The Hill: The only way to achieve the cost reductions included in last week's pledge by industry leaders "is to ration health care, thereby destroying our system," Morris, former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton and author of the book "Outrage," writes. He continues that Obama's position that U.S. residents' current health plans will not be altered "except for a magical reduction in their cost by $2,500 a year is a fool's proposition" because private health insurers "will be no more private than TARP-funded banks." Instead, private insurers "will be controlled by government health care planners who will approve treatments, limit drug use, hold down medical incomes and bring their cost-cutting programs to bear," Morris writes (Morris, The Hill, 5/12).
- Rich Lowry, New York Post: "Aside from its initial $1.5 trillion price tag over 10 years, the Obama plan would mean exploding public costs -- and higher taxes and/or rationing and price controls -- once it's been implemented on sugary, unrealizable promises," syndicated columnist Lowry writes. He concludes, "The imperative for Obama now is simply to find a way to make the medicine go down, and if industry is willing to help, all the better" (Lowry, New York Post, 5/13).
- James Florio, Philadelphia Inquirer: The Congressional Budget Office's prediction of health care overhaul plans' effect on the federal budget likely will "be the most important game in town" when it comes to health care reform, Florio, former Democratic governor of New Jersey and a former state congressman, writes. Florio notes that "the House and Senate do not move forward on policies affecting the federal budget -- basically, any policy -- without consulting the nonpartisan experts at the CBO" first (Florio, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/15).
- Richard Fried, Philadelphia Inquirer: Physicians could "eliminate the current health care crisis" immediately and without legislation "[b]y eliminating unnecessary tests and procedures," Fried, director of the Kimberton Clinic for Sustainable Medicine and a family physician, writes. Fried continues, "I reckon that every unnecessary CT scan or MRI helps force one more person into the ranks of the uninsured." He continues, "Unneeded tests and procedures are not only economically unsustainable, they also represent bad medicine" in that they increase the risk of invasive procedures, raise "unnecessary fears (which, ironically, only more tests can alleviate)" and contribute to "physician burnout" (Fried, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/13).
- Norman Ornstein, Roll Call: "Almost every stakeholder in the health system knows not only that change has to come, but that it can't go on the same path that it has," Ornstein, an American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, writes. With so many health care industry interests coming together to work on health care reform, "there is reason to believe that health policy reform has a real chance of success this year," Ornstein says (Ornstein, Roll Call, 5/13).
- Eric Larson, Seattle Times: If Obama takes a stance with health care that is similar to the one he took with troubled U.S. automakers, "he won't bow to sectors that would resist reform from their own self-interest," which means instituting some cost controls and examining the health care structure, Larson, executive director of the Group Health Center for Health Studies, writes. "Those of us who work in health care may have to look past our fear of change to accept needed reform for the entire country's good," Larson adds (Larson, Seattle Times, 5/13).
- Sally Pipes, U.S. News & World Report: "American health care may not be perfect," but "it's not on the verge of collapse either -- unless President Obama succeeds with his various health care reform efforts," Pipes, president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, writes. "The long-term fix for America's health care system must serve patients, not government," she concludes (Pipes, U.S. News & World Report, 5/13).
- Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal: Members of the Obama administration "speak obscurely" on issues like health care reform either "because they can't help themselves" or "because they really aren't all that keen to have people understand them," according to Journal columnist Noonan. "They're not helping the prevailing sense of national anxiety by speaking in a special lingo all their own," she writes, adding, "After all, it's not their health care system they're reforming, it is America's," so it "would be nice if America were allowed to know what exactly the plan is, and how it would work, and who would pay, and how" (Noonan, Wall Street Journal, 5/16).
- Drew Altman, Washington Post: The pledge by health care industry groups to reduce spending growth "underscores how the prospect of broader action by a president and Congress, including specific ideas industry groups don't like, such as a public plan option, can motivate industry to do more than it otherwise would," Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, writes. According to Altman, "The bigger test will come once health reform legislation is written and details about how it will be financed become clear," at which point "the debate will enter a critical phase -- and if the industry is still at the table then, health care's legendary interest groups will really have changed their ways, and prospects for reform will be vastly improved" (Altman, Washington Post, 5/17).
- Lawrence Kudlow, Washington Times: "Free-market competition will lower costs in health care just as it has every place else" and will "grow the economy," syndicated columnist Kudlow writes in a Washington Times opinion piece. "Republicans must come up with some pro-competition, free-enterprise alternatives" for health care "that will meet the yearning of voter-taxpayers for a return to free-enterprise American prosperity and opportunity," he writes (Kudlow, Washington Times, 5/15).