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Reframing the Health Reform Debate

This morning, Democratic leaders will join White House officials to release a report outlining the economic case for enacting health care reform ASAP. In advance of that release, Christina Romer, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers, penned an op-ed for Yahoo! News outlining the argument:

Health care reform is more than a social imperative – it is an economic necessity. A new study by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers demonstrates that the current American health care system is on an unsustainable path. Without health care reform, American workers and families will continue to experience eroding health care benefits and stagnating wages caused by the pressure of escalating health insurance premiums. And without reform, rising spending on Medicare and Medicaid will lead to massive and unsustainable Federal budget deficits.

Years of diagnosis on the ills of the U.S. health system have produced no cure. Health care expenditures in this country are currently 18 percent of GDP and, without change, will keep rising, until they account for nearly one-third of our total output by 2040.

None of this is news, of course. Health care experts have warned for years that medical spending is rising at rates that would swamp the economy in a few short decades. Still, it’s a clever strategy.

Supporters of an overhaul of the nation’s health care system have been screaming for years about the failure of a system that would leave more than 45 million Americans — roughly one in six — without health coverage. That is, they’ve been focusing on the health and social implications of inaction — to no avail. Largely the inaction is symptomatic of the lobbying prowess of the medical-industrial complex, but it’s surely significant that most of those 45 million people lacking insurance are of low and moderate incomes — not the type of folks who hold enormous sway in Washington.

By re-framing the health policy debate as an economic issue affecting everyone, Democrats are hoping to rally the type of popular support they’ll certainly require to pass such sweeping reforms.

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