Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Healthcare reform or revolution?

Having covered the healthcare debate for the VBJ and other publications during my time as a journalist, friends and extended family members often ask for this reporter’s take on a nearly two decade-long debate.

My answer mostly depends on who’s doing the asking.

To one of my mother’s older close friends currently on Medicare, my response to her concerns about the future viability of her government-run plan can be boiled down to this: reform, not revolution.

Though the exact wording of the provisions in the competing House and Senate versions of the bill may differ, most if not all of them contain measures reforming Medicare by trimming costs, improving efficiency and going after fraud and other abuses of the system.

“Not a dime will be used for anything other than Medicare,” said U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a live video chat on healthcare reform with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) this afternoon.

To a small business owner with 20 or less employees asking how current healthcare proposals will affect his or her ability to cover even their sickest employees, my answer again is reform, not revolution.

Stipulations in the House and Senate version of the bill allow for businesses to take advantage of tax credits up to 50 percent of their healthcare costs, as well as allowing more private insurers to compete for the business of small firms.

Speaking today, Murray indicated that some small business may not have to change anything about the way they deliver healthcare coverage to their employees: “The plan is about lowering costs for businesses so that they can keep the coverage they have.”

And last, but not least, to my twenty-something friends, most of them employed but only about half currently with health insurance, I advise them to get ready to storm the Bastille – there’s a revolution coming.

If the Senate Finance Committee’s recently-approved version of healthcare overhaul is any indicator, a stipulation mandating that all Americans get some kind of health insurance is likely to be a reality by this time next year.

Gone will be the days when one my best friends from college got hit by a car and got treatment at an emergency room with the premium-paying insured picking up the tab.

Sure there will be some kind of exception, or perhaps another kind of loop-hole for people who either can’t afford or don’t want to pay for health insurance. They’ll definitely be more than a few young, healthy people who will just ignore the stipulations altogether.

But if there’s anything that this long debate has taught us, it is this: the inequalities and the crippling cost to individuals and businesses from this country’s broken healthcare system can’t be ignored any longer.

Sick and well, young and old, we’re all in this thing together.