There’s a new spirit of change in America.
Last November, the American people chose to move forward to a better future together. Old divisions were put aside, and Americans from all walks of life, all parts of the nation, and all beliefs and creeds joined together to say that we can—we must—find a better way.
In few areas is the need for change so great and so urgent as in health care. Countless Americans face each visit to the doctor not just with apprehension about their medical condition but with real fear that an illness could bring financial ruin. The threat of medical bankruptcy is not a reality in other developed countries, where a higher priority is placed on guaranteeing access to health-care coverage. Other developed nations also surpass us in areas such as affordability and quality. Americans spend more than 50 percent more per capita on health care than the next most expensive country, and the United States has the highest number of preventable deaths among developed countries. It’s profoundly wrong that in a nation with the greatest hospitals and the most innovative medical research in the world, millions of our citizens are denied the basic right to quality health care they can afford.
Health care isn’t a frill or a luxury. It’s a basic necessity that should be available to all Americans, not just those who have the best jobs and the highest incomes.
Health care isn’t a frill or a luxury. It’s a basic necessity that should be available to all Americans, not just those who have the best jobs and the highest incomes. That’s why I’m working with President Obama and my colleagues in Congress to make good health care a reality for all Americans.
Health reform is not just about expanding access to coverage, although doing so is clearly fundamental. It’s not just about reducing costs, although doing so is essential to reduce the burden on working families of the soaring cost of health care. True reform will include other key priorities, as well.
We must recognize that the best way to treat an illness is to keep it from striking. Millions of Americans fail to receive the basic preventive services they need to stay healthy. The result is predictable—vast numbers of people who should be able to lead healthy and productive lives are instead struck down by sickness. Billions of dollars each year are lost from missed workdays because of preventable illness. We must reform our health-care system so that it prevents disease, rather than waiting for illness to strike.
Reform must also see that the health-care system rewards the quality of care provided, not just the quantity of care. To do so, we must include stronger incentives in our health-care system to promote high-quality care, facilitate better coordination, and achieve a genuine 21st-century work force for our modern health-care system.
We must also see that patients receive effective coverage for the care they need. Too often today, the coverage that working families have scrimped and saved to afford fails them when they need it most, by denying coverage for needed medical services caused by “pre-existing conditions”—as if the suffering that sickness causes was any less from an old illness than from a new one. Today, millions of Americans cannot get coverage at any price, because they are red-lined out of coverage by their medical history. We must end these unacceptable practices and make certain that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.
The best way to meet this goal is by giving Americans the option of enrolling in a public health-insurance plan, where coverage is provided in the public interest.
We must also require stricter oversight of the insurance industry. We’ve seen the harmful result of lax supervision and porous rules in the banking industry. We must make certain that health-insurance coverage serves the needs of consumers, not CEOs.
The time has come to take action. We must enact comprehensive health reform without delay. Patients and doctors, business and labor, Republicans and Democrats, and working families across the nation are demanding it, and Congress must respond.
Without the strong support of the American people in this major effort to reform our health-care system, we cannot succeed. With their support, we cannot fail. Together, under the leadership of President Obama, we can at long last make the dream of quality health care a reality for all.
Edward M. Kennedy is the senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.