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Op-Ed: Cut the clamor over desperately needed health care reforms

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — There’s a lot of noise about health care — wildly false claims, meetings being disrupted, shrill voices shouting down legislators. Amid the din, real ideas and concerns are getting lost.

It’s easy and lazy to criticize something. What’s difficult and bold is to recognize that a critically important part of our country’s infrastructure is severely broken and come up with a plan to fix it.

The premise of many health reform naysayers is that the system isn’t bad now, but it will be if we “reform” it. The next part of that theory is that what Canada and England have creates problems that do not exist in the health care utopia we currently occupy. (Incidentally, none of the congressional proposals would adopt their systems.)

Even assuming the initial premise is true –and it’s not unless you are wealthy and lucky — we still know the next parts are demonstrably untrue.

If we do nothing, employer-based coverage will continue to erode, even as our unstable job market means more people are losing access to employer plans. And when people lose or switch jobs, often they are unable to acquire coverage in the private market.

That can mean long periods without coverage, or with costly catastrophic coverage, and dangerous Catch-22 provisions down the line: You can’t get coverage if you didn’t have coverage in the past – that pesky pre-existing condition exclusion.

Particularly offensive are attempts by opponents to convince older people that reform proposals would steal their benefits or destroy Medicare. Many of the Medicare “cuts” are delivery system reforms that aging advocates have been urging. We actually could see improvements to the Medicare program if reform occurs – changes that won’t happen otherwise.

Seniors are an important constituency because they know the importance of health care and care about their children and grandchildren. Using fear to turn them against reform is reprehensible.

Also outrageous: Raising the specter of Nazis to promote the absurdist scare tactics about fictional death panels. too.

The U.S. health care system is broken. In the richest nation in the world, about 47 million Americans have no health insurance. Millions of Americans are underinsured, unable to afford co-pays or prescriptions, or even are forced into bankruptcy by uncovered expenses (medical costs are the biggest single cause of bankruptcy in the United States).

The numbers of people who don’t visit doctors or fill prescriptions because they are underinsured is rising. Meanwhile, the traveling clinics created to serve disease-ravaged parts of the developing world now also visit underserved communities in poor and rural parts of the United States. People travel many miles and wait countless hours for those services.

In the face of this crisis, some have chosen venom, demagoguery and misinformation over real dialogue – jeopardizing the chance to make life better for millions. A better health care system, we should not forget, would provide real security for everyone – even those who like whatever arrangement they have now.

As a human rights organization, B’nai B’rith is dedicated to health care for all. We have not yet endorsed any piece of legislation – we see problems, as well as real promise, in each of them. Legislators are working hard to do more than stake out ideological and political territory.

At the most basic level, health care coverage needs to be comprehensive, affordable and secure. It must ensure that people can keep the coverage they like and acquire coverage they can afford. Realistic health care reform must address long-term services and be both politically feasible and financially fair.

A reform plan should include provisions for the high costs of prescription drugs and long-term care issues. Our population is aging and the latter’s costs have the potential to further erode our current system.

Americans, regardless of their opinion or knowledge base, obviously are passionate about health care: Just watch any town hall meeting with members of Congress or listen to callers on talk radio. Health issues can serve as the great leveler of our society. Everyone gets sick and needs medical attention. It’s time for a better system.

There are real proposals on the table that could expand coverage. Will everyone like every element of the proposals? Of course not. But if we can quiet the shouting and stay in touch with the reality that demands we do something, we have an opportunity to work together to reach an effective compromise.

That compromise could improve, and even save, millions of lives and deliver the human right of health security to a country in desperate need.

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