The cost of inaction is too great

Over the past several months, my office has responded to thousands of letters and phone calls on health care. I’ve traveled all across New Hampshire talking to small-business owners and families who are desperate for help. I’ve talked to health-care providers who are frustrated with the current system.

Time and time again, we have heard that our health-care system is not working. Costs are too high and access too limited. The status quo is unsustainable, now is the time to act.

Every day in New Hampshire and across our country, families are struggling with the rising costs of health care threatening their financial stability, leaving them exposed to higher premiums and deductibles, and putting them at risk for a possible loss of health insurance coverage and financial ruin.

According to one study, 62 percent of bankruptcies in 2007 were caused by a medical condition. Most of these individuals were middle class and three quarters had health insurance. It is clear that our health-care crisis is not limited to the uninsured. Health-care costs are a threat to our economy, our small businesses and our working families.

The current health-care system is simply unsustainable for our economy. It is estimated that in 2009 our nation will spend $2.5 trillion – or 18 percent of the GDP on health care. That means health-care costs account for 18 percent of the value of all goods and services produced in this country. If we continue on our current path health care will make up over a third of our economy by 2040.

In New Hampshire, our small businesses are feeling this burden firsthand. From 2002 to 2006, there was more than a 40 percent increase in the premiums businesses paid for an individual plan for their workers. And for our smallest businesses, those with fewer than 10 employees, the increase was almost double – a more than 70 percent increase. This means that although our small-business owners want to provide their employees with health insurance many of them can’t.

Ultimately it is our hard-working families who suffer. Today the average family living in New Hampshire pays approximately $14,600 for their insurance premium. If we continue on the current path they will be paying approximately $25,000 in 2019. That is simply unaffordable.

The good news is that we know how to bring down costs. At Dartmouth’s Center for Informed Choice, research shows that more spending does not translate into better outcomes. In fact, it shows that up to 40 percent of the time patients who participate in decisions related to their care will choose the less invasive and less costly procedures. These choices produce better outcomes with higher rates of patient satisfaction. The health-care industry can do better for less and we can find savings in our system.

For example, experts have estimated that we can save $5,000 per Medicare beneficiary by reducing costly hospital readmissions. I have introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Collins of Maine called the Medicare Transitional Care Act. This legislation will reduce Medicare costs and offer better support and coordination of care to Medicare patients by keeping seniors who are discharged from the hospital from unnecessarily returning. This will improve the quality of health care for our seniors and save taxpayers money.

We have the opportunity to bring down costs and reform our health-care system. There is no doubt that this is not easy — in fact, it is one of the greatest challenges of our time. But the cost of inaction is too great. We need to control costs and stabilize coverage for all Americans. I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to achieve this goal.

Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire’s junior U.S. senator. This article is excerpted from remarks she gave on the Senate floor during the summer.

Categories: Opinion