Historic Opportunity for Health Care Reform

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are too important to miss, and Robert Kraig, program director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin, believes the health care reform debate in Congress is just such an opportunity.

Kraig is not a casual observer of this debate, he's immersed in it. Citizen Action of Wisconsin is the state's lead organization for the national health care reform advocacy group Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), and has won plaudits for its role in building grass roots momentum for national health care reform.

Kraig isn't simply approaching this only from the standpoint of a consumer advocate demanding universal health insurance coverage. Small businesses are on his mind, too, because they are the organizations that have been most impacted by health insurance cost inflation, and reigning in costs will be a major thrust of this reform.

"The thing that separates this effort with past efforts is hyperinflation," Kraig said. "There has been a massive run up in health insurance costs nationally and in Wisconsin since 2000. There is a national consensus that has emerged that these costs are absolutely unsustainable."

This hyperinflationary run up has affected all businesses, but small businesses in particular. Larger businesses have tended to keep their health insurance coverage, but they have tried to shift more of the cost or hollow out the policies while continuing to provide coverage. "Smaller businesses are the ones that, by far and in the largest numbers, have simply stopped providing coverage," he noted, citing Wisconsin Department of Health Services data that only 41% of Wisconsin small businesses now provide health insurance coverage to their employees.

The reform battle has not yet been won, and July could well be a pivotal month. Inevitably, when comprehensive healthcare reform is being debated, interest groups could be lurking around the corner to kill it, including those that thus far have been singing the reform kumbaya.

Interest groups aren't the only potential obstacles. When President Obama visited Green Bay recently, he touted that city's ability to provide excellent care at an affordable cost. He also sang the praises of organizations like the Cleveland Clinic and Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, which are widely acclaimed as models of cost-conscious yet cutting-edge health care delivery. That led some to ask why the rest of the nation isn't simply encouraged to follow their lead. In other words, if we have pockets of excellence around the country, why donÕt we simply replicate them. Why the need for the first comprehensive reform of the American health care system in 40 years?

It's a fair question, and the counter argument is that there is not enough time to wait for every health care entity to develop such operational excellence. Kraig, for one, believes uninsured consumers and cost-burdened small businesses have waited long enough. "If we don't do this right and to scale," he said, "we'll lose a very important historic opportunity."