Time to act on health care

Democrats must move forward on a comprehensive plan

The health-care summit convened by President Obama last week showed that, if the nation’s dysfunctional and hugely expensive health-care system is to be reformed, it will be up to the Democrats in Congress to do it. Republicans made it amply clear that they would accept nothing less than abandoning Democratic plans and starting over from scratch.

Change can’t wait. As Anthem’s recent rate hikes show, health-care and -insurance costs are going up and up and up. At current rates of increase, they are projected to constitute 24 percent of the economy—and individual budgets—by 2020. That’s unsupportable.

And the system cannot be reformed incrementally. Republican proposals would insure only an additional 3 million people over the next 10 years, leaving 43 million uninsured, driving costs higher and higher.

Only comprehensive reform will work. It’s impossible, for example, to guarantee care to already-ill people if insurance isn’t mandatory. Otherwise, uninsured people will wait until they are sick to buy insurance, increasing the percentage of the insured who are sick and thereby driving up costs.

Both the House and Senate have approved bills. All that’s needed for reform is for the House to approve the Senate bill. Some House Democrats are balking at certain provisions of the Senate bill. Hopefully, the president and Speaker Nancy Pelosi can change their minds. If not, the two bills should go to budget reconciliation for final tweaking.

Will the result be perfect? Far from it. But there will be plenty of time to correct the bill’s deficiencies in the future. The important thing now is to act.