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If You are Worried about the Economy, Agitate for Health Care Reform

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I’ve just read a piece by a labor union leader and the Chairman and CEO of Pfizer begging for this reform– a rare combined response of labor and management.

“The evaporation of nearly 600,000 jobs in January alone makes the need for healthcare reform more urgent than ever,” they write. “Each one percent rise in the national unemployment rate strands a million more people without health insurance. Even for many of the employed, healthcare costs are outpacing income and forcing hard choices, such as taking care of a family’s health or keeping a roof over its head.”

It is the argument of these writers that it’s not a matter of being unable to address health care reform because of the collapse of the economy. Quite the opposite; we must address it immediately because of the collapse of the economy. Those of us even peripherally involved in the health care system know that addressing the health care crisis will not only help to generate jobs and rebuild the economy, but will allow us to address what we know is upon us — the eventual collapse of Medicare and Medicaid under the current system.

Health care reform should be part of the Fiscal Responsibility Summit and the plan to lower the deficit. Medicare fraud leaks billions of dollars every year out of the system, because providers can’t get paid enough through any other system. The incentives for small scale fraud just for survival are similar to those for pickpockets in third world countries. Reform would remove them (at least temporarily, and at least the current ones).

And then we get into the incentives that are not fraudulent: America loses an estimated $207 billion every year due to the poorer health and shorter lifespans of those lacking good coverage. Another $1.3 trillion is lost through easily preventable and treatable chronic conditions, such as hypertension, asthma and heart disease. Right now, we spend only four cents of every healthcare dollar on prevention and public health, opening the gates for the most expensive chronic diseases, and paying heavily for the inevitable results.

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