INTERCONNECTIVITY…. I was watching Rachel Maddow on “The Tonight Show” last night, and heard Jay Leno raise a point we’re likely to see quite a bit in the coming months. “The financial [crisis] seems big enough,” Leno said. “[Obama is] also taking on energy and health care. Is he biting off too much? Should we just go, ‘All right, let’s fix the economy; next year we’ll talk about health care or energy.’ Should you pick one and focus on that? It’s like we’re doing everything all at the same time.”
Rachel’s response was spot on: “I think it would be great to focus on one thing at one at a time, if these things weren’t all interconnected…. If our health care system stays as stupid as it is, we’re never really going to get our economic problems fixed.”
And that’s the point I was glad to see President Obama emphasize at the White House summit on health care today.
“We are here today to discuss one of the greatest threats not just to the well-being of our families and the prosperity of our businesses, but to the very foundation of our economy — and that is the exploding cost of health care in America today.
“In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages, and an additional nine million Americans have joined the ranks of the uninsured. The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. And even for folks who are weathering this economic storm, and have health care now, all it takes is one stroke of bad luck — an accident or illness; a divorce or lost job — to become one of the nearly 46 million uninsured or the millions who have health care, but can’t afford it.
“We did not get here by accident. The problems we face today are a direct consequence of actions we failed to take yesterday…. [T]here are those who say we should defer health care reform once again — that at a time of economic crisis, we simply cannot afford to fix our health care system as well.
“Well, let’s be clear: the same soaring costs that are straining our families’ budgets are sinking our businesses and eating up our government’s budget too. Too many small businesses can’t insure their employees. Major American corporations are struggling to compete with their foreign counterparts. And companies of all sizes are shipping their jobs overseas or shutting their doors for good.
“Medicare costs are consuming our federal budget. Medicaid is overwhelming our state budgets. And at the Fiscal Summit we held here last week, the one thing on which everyone agreed was that the greatest threat to America’s fiscal health is not Social Security, though that is a significant challenge; and it is not the investments we’ve made to rescue our economy; it is the skyrocketing cost of health care.
“That is why we cannot delay this discussion any longer. And that is why today’s forum is so important. Because health care reform is no longer just a moral imperative, it is a fiscal imperative. If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, then we must address the crushing cost of health care this year, in this Administration. Making investments in reform now, investments that will dramatically lower costs, won’t add to our budget deficits in the long-term — rather, it is one of the best ways to reduce them.”
The question isn’t whether we can afford to tackle health-care reform; the question is whether we can afford not to.
The government will spend $2.5 trillion on health care this year. In less than a decade, it will constitute 20% of GDP. If we’re going to improve the economy and take fiscal sustainability seriously, this won’t wait.