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What’s health reform really about?

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ON MESSAGE: Snyder explains his positions to a crown in Little Rock.
  • ON MESSAGE: Snyder explains his positions to a crown in Little Rock.

Socialism, cronyism, rationing, taxes, immigration, conspiracy theories, death panels, euthanasia. That's a lot to talk about. But one thing often missing from the health care debate has been, well, talk about health care.

It's not all the media's fault although news reports have elevated the claims of anti-health reform protestors to a higher status than the strength of their facts or the merits of their arguments might warrant. We haven't helped matters (just look at this week's cover story), although we did feel it was important to dig a little deeper into the motivations of some of the loudest voices.

Behind some of the unhappiness is an irrational mistrust of the president, to whom most health reform opponents attribute sinister intentions. How else do you explain someone's ability to convince themselves that if an elderly person needs medical attention their societal worthiness will first be determined by a panel of experts, using criteria developed by an evil doctor who happens to have the ear of the president. (The name Ezekiel Emmanuel just sounds weird and un-American, doesn't it?)

But people do believe it. And worse. Even in a state that stands to gain from the current proposals. Even in a state where insurance premiums rose nearly six times faster than the average income over the past nine years.

“There's no question that the media coverage of these town halls has slowed down the reform process,” says Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

“However, there is no denying that these town events are legitimate news events,” he says. “If I have a complaint at all, it's less about the coverage of the town halls and more about the lack of coverage of the other side of the issue, such as why we need reform in the first place, the human costs of doing nothing and the good things that are in the House reform bill.”

Part of the problem has been the inability of the Democrats, from the White House on down, to simply explain this to the American people. What is reform and why do we need it? Vic Snyder said after a town hall meeting on health care last week that there was no direction from the White House or the Democratic Party on how to talk about this issue or how to combat all the misinformation flying around. “That's not how we operate,” Snyder said.

I understand the Democrats want to be a bottom-up organization with room for dissenting opinions and differing points of view, but on an issue this big there has to be some unity or you lose control. That has happened.

“There are a lot of citizens who are concerned that they're going to be hurt by reform,” Huddleston says. “In some cases, people aren't thinking about the bigger picture. The debate has become too much about ‘How am I going to lose because of this?' and not ‘How is this going to move our country or our state forward?' ”

According to a report released by AACF, the current house proposal (HB3200) would:

• Allow 6,130 Arkansas families to escape bankruptcy due to medical costs.

• Prevent insurers from capping the cost of benefits provided annually or over a lifetime.

• Prohibit insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

• Provide subsidies for low and moderate-income families to help purchase coverage.

• Provide subsidies for small businesses. Businesses with less than 25 employees and average wages below $40,000 could receive subsidies up to 50 percent of employer premium costs, the report says. That could help as many as 58,700 businesses in the state.

• Automatically enroll uninsured newborns in Medicaid for 60 days while a determination of eligibility for Medicaid, or other options, is made.

• Extend Medicaid to all low-income uninsured individuals under 65, making it easier for poor families to get coverage. “Covering entire families makes a difference,” the report says. “Children are more likely to access health services when their parents have coverage.”

• Sets minimum levels of coverage for insurance plans. Plans would have to provide a basic level of services with additional requirements for kids.

“What this is really about,” says Huddleston, “is providing coverage for the many uninsured people in our state. It's about making sure that people aren't denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. It's about reducing situations where people can't get procedures they need because someone has decided that in their case it is not warranted. It's about making sure that we don't economically bankrupt families or force them to foreclose on their homes because they can't afford medical bills.”

 Have you read that in your newspaper or heard it on your favorite TV station?  

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