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Obama: Health reform ‘cannot wait’

By Carol Gentry
2/24/2009 Florida Health News 

Pres. Barack Obama told the nation Tuesday night that the nation must get control of health spending immediately. It "has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year." 

His supporters are urging Floridians to echo that call to their members of Congress. This week, a report released by Florida's chapter of Health Care for America Now -- which describes itself as a non-profit coalition of 725 organizations including health professionals, small business owners, faith-based groups, seniors and unions -- said that Florida's economy cannot be fixed unless health reforms are enacted.

One in five state dollars goes to Medicaid and KidCare, which covers children of working families who can't afford insurance. The budget deficit has forced the state to freeze payments to nursing homes and relax staffing standards there, the report said. Medicaid payments to hospitals and community services for the elderly and disabled have also been cut.

The report noted that health insurance premiums in Florida increased by more than 72 percent between 2000 and 2007, while wages increased only 20 percent.

Last year, it said, the average premium for family coverage in Florida was $12,721 and is expected to rise to $28,000 over the next seven years unless action is taken.

Florida is one of several states in which the cost of family coverage under COBRA, an insurance-extension program for laid-off workers, exceeds the average unemployment check. Even though the recently signed federal stimulus bill includes a 65 percent COBRA subsidy for those recently laid off, that still leaves a hefty payment unaffordable to most, said HCAN's Richard Kirsch on a conference call with reporters.
 
"This crazy, vicious cycle's got to stop," he said.

State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, who participated in the call, said Floridians need to tell their members of Congress not to listen to the insurance industry, drug companies and other special interests that will fight curbs on over-spending. "We're going to stop them from feeding at the public trough," he said.

The report was released on Monday, anticipating Obama's speech to Congress on Tuesday night. Here is an exerpt from the Obama speech denouncing "the crushing cost of health care":

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year. "

--Contact Carol Gentry by e-mail or at 727-410-3266.