Monday, August 27, 2007

Teilhet: "Bankruptcy of Vision" in Health Care Debate

Progress on Health Care Will Require Reason, Political Courage
State Representative Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna)
Chief Deputy Whip-House Democratic Caucus

More than a million and a half Georgians do not have access to health care that they can afford. The vast majority of these Georgians work full-time, yet they and their children are one major illness or accident away from bankruptcy and the loss of everything they’ve worked for, including their home. Imagine losing everything you have so you can pay for the medical treatment of a spouse or child. For too many people in our community, this doesn’t have to be imagined because it’s a reality. And these ranks are growing.

These Georgians are not abstractions. They are our neighbors. We talk with them every day at the grocery store, gas station, and at the office. They are the ladies who print and fold church bulletins for Sunday service. They are the men who fix our car when it won’t run, and who repair our air conditioning when summer has taken its toll. They are the people who serve political leaders their steak dinners at fine banquets, who top off the wine glasses at a $1,000 per plate fundraiser, and who keep the grounds neat and clean at the members-only golf course. They are parents and they are children. These people would never think to mention it, but they are carrying a burden. And we can choose either to help them, or do nothing.

What can we do? Two years ago, I introduced HB 1212 (or PeachKids) to ensure that every child in Georgia would have access to quality health care their family could afford. The plan was affordable, had been tested in other states and proved successful. It never received so much as a public hearing. This year, Democratic State Representative Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) and Republican State Representative and Committee Chair Judy Manning (R-Marietta) introduced HB 625 (or PeachCare for All Kids), designed to make sure every child in Georgia could have access to a family doctor. PeachCare for All Kids builds on a system that works, the current PeachCare system, and does so in a fiscally responsible way, constituting an investment Georgia can easily afford. Both plans demand responsibility and buy-in from families in the form of tiered but affordable premiums and leveraged millions in available federal matching funds to help people help themselves and obtain the coverage they need. Yet PeachCare for All Kids met a similar fate to PeachKids, mired in committee while the General Assembly did battle over the pressing issues of payday loans, where to buy beer on Sunday and what kinds of pictures to put on our license plates.

There are other promising proposals by members of both parties, including more aggressively pooling the uninsured to increase their bargaining power and lower their available premiums. Another possibility is to use refundable tax credits similar to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit to help working people of modest income generate enough money to obtain health care coverage for their families. The problem in dealing with health care in Georgia isn’t a lack of policy alternatives, it’s the lack of political will to think and act boldly.

Recent comments by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, who dismissed my call to do more on the issue of health care by pointing out that, after all, people can go to the emergency room if they really have to, show the dangers of obedience to caution and the status quo. While I agree with parts of the Republican mantra that controlling the cost of health care is important, it will not help the husband who has worked hard his entire life, played by the rules, and lost everything to pay for his wife’s unexpected cancer treatment. A bankruptcy of vision is as much a threat to health care in Georgia as a bankruptcy of dollars.

No doubt, the bipartisan alternatives that have been laid out will be attacked by some political hacks with the poll-tested language of “socialized medicine” or “Hillary-care.” They are, of course, no such thing. They are affordable and rational extensions of existing policies that have bipartisan support to meet a pressing need of our people, one that is not being met by the current health care system. Helping to make health care access more affordable isn’t “socialized medicine” any more than HOPE scholarships are “socialized education,” the state’s partnership with Kia is “socialized car building,” or OneGeorgia grants are “socialized rural economic development.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Other states have made strides in making health care more accessible and done so in a bipartisan way. There is no good reason Georgia cannot do likewise. The funding and policy proposals are there. But what will be required is not timidity, not focus groups or poll-tested sloganeering, or weak gestures that are more symbolic than substantive. Rather, solutions will require courage and the expenditure of political capital.

1 comment:

Tina said...

This is not an original thought, but I share it because I agree with it....."The way a society treats its unfortunates, its mentally ill, its poor, its elderly is the measure of its values...." It always surprises me that some of the folks who present themselves as the most religious can't seem to get this.
Makes one wonder what part of "brother's keeper" is it that they don't understand.