KANE: The battle for health care isn’t over

Jonas Kane


Stephen Colbert quipped last week that he loves when national elections are decided by one state. 

He was speaking, of course, about the special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by the late Ted Kennedy.

When Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown last Tuesday, the brief supermajority held by Democrats in the Senate ended. 

In the immediate future, the legislation backed by President Obama to reform health care may be imperiled, as Senator-elect Brown has pledged to cast a solid vote against the proposed reform.

What’s interesting about this situation is that even some Democrats — President Obama included — have seen this as a sign that health care reform should be reconsidered or, at the least, slowed down. Senator Jim Web (D-Va.) commented that the election was, among other things, a referendum on health care. 

Voters in Massachusetts, however, already have a comprehensive state health care plan in place, one that is supported by a majority of voters and nonvoters in the state. 

And, as polls done by The Washington Post (in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University) show, even 48 percent of people who voted for Scott Brown believe that he should work with Obama on national health care reform, rather than simply obstructing its passage.

 This view is in addition to the strong majority of voters for his opponent (and a plurality of nonvoters) who support passing reform.

The result of the election, if a referendum against anything, was seemingly a vote demonstrating a growing general dissatisfaction with the central government.

 It’s also important to remember that this was a race in only one area of the country and that a variety of factors — including that Brown might simply have been a superior candidate — came into play.

This is not to say that people throughout the country strongly support health care reform. Indeed, public sentiment on national health care reform has been decidedly mixed for some time, with the debate often bogged down by frivolous critiques from all sides, be it about nonexistent death panels, abortion, a public option or illegal immigrants.

The Massachusetts race itself doesn’t show a change in public attitude on health care, but it does create a political impediment to passing new reform. This means that more compromise will likely be necessary if legislation is to move forward.

It’s inevitable that whatever legislation passes — if any passes at this point at all — will be a watered down version of House and Senate bills already forged through numerous political concessions. 

Still, on both practical and moral levels, even incremental reform on health care is a necessity. Even if the election in Massachusetts wasn’t a referendum on health care, perhaps it provides a chance to re-examine and re-emphasize why the national system needs an overhaul.

From a moral standpoint, about 44 million Americans live without health insurance, which Harvard Medical school researchers estimated last year to result in the unnecessary deaths of almost 45,000 people in the United States each year. Countless Americans have also found their insurance rendered useless for unknown pre-existing conditions, leaving them out of luck when it comes to obtaining necessary medical treatment.

Secondly, on a more practical level, reform is necessary from an economic standpoint to begin controlling costs. 

The United States spends 16 percent of its GDP on health care — more than any other developed nation — and it has been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office that the number will rise to 25 percent by 2025 if changes are not made.  

So, beyond failing to cover a substantial portion of citizens, the current model is also woefully inefficient when compared to systems run in other countries. 

Regardless of party affiliation, no American should accept the continuation of a wasteful system that leaves so many citizens without access to something as basic as health care.