Morning Sentinel
Health insurance needs more than minor repairs
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Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 11/27/2009

If any Mainers needed a reminder about why the nation's health insurance system must be reformed, the insurance industry is helpfully providing one.

Employers who offer health insurance in their benefit plans are getting their rates for next year, and, as the consumers who buy their insurance on the individual market found earlier this year, it's not a pretty picture.

Double-digit increases are common, some as high as 25 percent. Companies are considering scaling back benefits, even dropping them completely, adding to the rolls of the uninsured and underinsured. This situation is not sustainable, and it won't be fixed with minor adjustments.

Opponents of health-care reform warn against monkeying with what is equivalent to one-sixth of our economy. But the sheer size of the health-care sector is a reason to act, not a reason to avoid action. It should not be so big.

Medical inflation is so out of pace with the rest of the economy it slows down job growth, threatens competitiveness of U.S. companies and creates uncertainty for American consumers.

The higher costs do not translate into better care -- in fact, it's just the opposite. People are getting priced out of insurance, avoiding care and waiting until they get sick when treatment is more expensive and less effective.

The health insurance reform bill now before the U.S. Senate won't resolve the problem but takes steps in the right direction.

The plan would extend coverage to millions of Americans, through measures such as taxing Cadillac insurance plans and elective cosmetic surgery, and would do so with money that is already in the system by creating disincentives for over-use of procedures and encouraging people to look for efficiencies.

It also would create insurance exchanges in which companies compete, giving consumers choice and putting downward pressure on prices.

In the long run, more cost-containment would come from improved access to preventive medicine and programs in which people are encouraged to make better lifestyle choices.

As next year's health insurance premiums show, there is nothing to be gained by waiting another year to reform our system.