For most of last year, a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system seemed like a done deal. Despite the populist blowback led by the loose-knit network of Tea Party organizations, there remained a Democratic president for whom healthcare reform was a signature issue, supported by large majorities in Congress. Even as the months passed and the legislative “sausage-making” got uglier and uglier, reform bills passed both the House and the Senate.
Yet with the special election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to the Senate, the Democrats were somehow able to once again “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” losing their filibuster-proof Senate majority before the two bills could be reconciled. That Brown’s election appeared to derail the decades-long quest of the man who formerly held the seat, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, was the ultimate of ironies.
At print time, we still don’t know what will happen with healthcare reform in 2010. The last time an attempted overhaul was unsuccessful, the issue was taken off the table for nearly a generation. The irony here is that virtually everyone—Republicans and Democrats—agrees that the healthcare system is broken, but no one can agree on how to fix it. Meanwhile, healthcare spending continues to far outpace growth in the rest of the economy, as it has for the past four decades.
No one really knows where to go from here. While there are plenty of fine ideas in the various reform bills, many have been so watered down by the legislative process they are unlikely to be very effective. And with all of the backroom dealing, few people even know what is in the bill, much less how it would impact them. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll suggests that a majority of Americans are willing to live with the status quo, rather than risk that Congress will make a bad system even worse.
We fear what we don’t understand. And after a year of bailouts, takeovers and more economic pain, Americans are rightly concerned with exploding deficits and the potential perils of additional government intervention in a sector that makes up one-sixth of the overall economy.
Certainly, reform, however it comes, is a matter of time. There is little doubt that the exploding costs of healthcare are making our nation less competitive. I’m no expert, but as a small business owner, the annual rise in the cost of insurance premiums is a threat to the viability of my business. And yet, with budgets breaking everywhere, there are few who believe that current reform plans will do much to “bend the cost curve.”
Still, while the debate continues to rage at the national level, we can be thankful for the growth and stability of our local healthcare sector. Central Illinois boasts world-class medical facilities; top-notch doctors, surgeons and nurses; cutting-edge researchers; and advanced quality initiatives that point the way to the future. The Peoria area is downstate Illinois’ medical powerhouse, and that is not about to change anytime soon. iBi