In 1912, aiming for speed and ignoring iceberg warnings was a poor strategy for the Titanic. In 2009, aiming for universal health insurance and ignoring cost warnings is equally dangerous. The Congressional Budget Office has frigid warnings on some reform efforts: estimates of as much as $1.6 trillion in new costs over 10 years, perhaps without even covering everyone.
At $2.6 trillion per year and rising, health care spending is a threat to federal and state budgets, and big business. It's already a nightmare for small business. We all want broader and better coverage, but reformers must ask: How can we first contain costs?
Members of Congress will come home to California in the next week or two. Your wallets and your health depend on what Congress does when they go back to Washington in September. Congress could take your money or leave more for you to spend. They can finance health care reform with taxes that crush small businesses, or they can adopt responsible reform that allows small businesses to survive and create new jobs. They can empower patients and providers to make life-and-death decisions themselves, or they can hand that power over to unelected bureaucrats.
So it's never been more important for you to reach out to them and tell them the real story about how their decision on this issue could affect your life, your livelihood and your family.
Ask your representatives to talk numbers. We hear about the cost problem, but we aren't hearing nearly enough about solutions to that problem. When they tell you all the great things that will result from a particular piece of legislation, politely ask: "Will this bill lead to MORE spending on health care or LESS?" If you aren't comfortable with the answer, ask for more details.
More questions to ask: Will this bill spend a great deal of money to add just a fraction of the uninsured to the insurance rolls? Or will it reduce costs and enable all Americans to purchase insurance?
Will this bill impose mandates and payroll taxes on small businesses, hindering their ability to create jobs and build the economy? Or will it offer tax credits and other incentives to make it easier for small business employees to purchase health insurance?
Will this bill increase the government's involvement in your personal health care, with politicians and bureaucrats choosing your treatments and plans? Or will it increase the level of individual choice and responsibility?
Will this bill lead to continued increases in premiums and fewer choices of policies? Or will it create new rules that give firms access to larger pools, more choices of plans and an easier way to buy insurance?
Your representatives will make a decision that could affect the health and well-being of all Americans today, along with the wealth and well-being of future generations. The bill that passes could be one of the most profoundly important pieces of legislation in American history. That's why it's so important that we do this right.
Tell Congress to address COST. Because costs don't just go away. Ignore that fact, and we'll discover that, like the Titanic, our health care system is not unsinkable.
Kabateck is executive director of NFIB/CA, the California affiliate of the National Federation of Independent Business.