Commentary: Health care can't wait

Source: CNN Author: Kathleen Sebelius Pulsihed Time: July 15, 2009email Print this article

Today in Washington, some politicians like to suggest that the many challenges we face as a nation mean we shouldn't tackle health care reform.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

With more and more of America's families, businesses, and local, state and federal governments struggling with the crushing costs of health care, health care reform has never been more important.

As President Obama has often said, you can't fix the economy without fixing health care. Unless we fix what is broken in our current system, everyone's health care will be in jeopardy. Health care reform is not a luxury. It is a necessity.

It's important to look at the size of the problem we face and where we stand. Today, we have by far the most expensive health system in the world. We spend 50 percent more per person on health care than the average developed country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We spend more on health care than housing or food, the McKinsey Global Institute reported.

Nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured, millions more are underinsured, and they aren't the only ones who are suffering. The high cost of care is hurting all of us. A recent study by Families USA estimates that insured families pay a hidden health tax of more than $1,000 every year. The hidden tax is the amount businesses and families with insurance have to pay in insurance premiums, taxes and donations to help cover the cost of treating uninsured Americans.

Health insurance premiums for families that are covered through a job at a small business have increased 85 percent since 2000, and more small businesses are thinking about dropping health insurance benefits.

Nationwide, health care costs consume 18 percent of our gross domestic product. If we continue on our current path, health care costs will consume 34 percent of our GDP by 2040, and the number of uninsured Americans will rise to 72 million, according to the Council of Economic Advisers.

Even though we spend more than any other nation on health care, we aren't healthier. Only three developed countries have higher infant mortality rates. Our nation ranks 24th in life expectancy among developed countries. More than one-third of Americans are obese.

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