EDITORIAL: Health care reform should be done right, not fast

Published 7:02 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Although the Senate Finance Committee’s plan for health care reform – one of several such plans that Congress is considering – got a green light from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week, we remain very concerned that any eventual health care reform will simply not do what its authors intend. While it’s clear that there is a need to help Americans afford good health care, we’re far from convinced that this year’s efforts will get the job done properly.

The Budget Office said that the Finance Committee plan will ultimately reduce the federal budget deficit, and that sounds like good news for health care reform advocates. The trouble is that the Finance Committee bill is not the law that will eventually be passed. What eventually will emerge from Congress is going to be the result of furious, last-minute negotiations among several powerful committee leaders and the White House, all of whom are pushing alternative plans. If Congress runs true to form, those secret negotiations will yield a health care bill that is thousands of pages long and which will go to a final vote before the public – or even most members of Congress – can possibly read and understand its implications.

While that’s business as usual in Washington, it is particularly scary when the topic is health care reform, something that will reach into the personal life and wallet of nearly every American resident. The likelihood that the final bill will be a good one is next to nil. Its primary benefit, in fact, is likely to be as a rallying point in the 2010 elections, when Democrats will trumpet their success and Republicans will hold the law up as a rallying point for conservatives. More politics as usual.

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Americans, particularly the majority who pay taxes, will be left holding the bag on legislation that is almost certain to contain many deep flaws. While it is probably possible to enact useful health care reform, it seems unlikely that the customary law-making process will do the job right. We hope that lawmakers and the president will find a way to let any final bill “percolate” in public long enough that major flaws can be identified. This is a job that would best be done right, rather than fast.