Obama: Health Reform ‘Will Not Wait Another Year’

Tonight, during his prime time address to the nation, President Barack Obama said, “let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.”

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

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Obama’s urgency is well placed. Skyrocketing health care costs are threatening the country’s economic stability and Congress cannot help American families or address the economic woes “in a lasting, meaningful way without health care reform.”

Indeed, his budget will include a “historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.” While the budget lays out his principles for reform, Obama left the details of the plan to Congress.

Thankfully, that body has already started working on reform. In November, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, released his own principles for health reform and has held numerous meetings on restructuring the system.

Under the direction of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), “many of the leading figures in the nation’s long-running health care debate have been meeting secretly in a Senate hearing room” and “appear to be inching towards” a consensus on what a reform bill could look like.

The stakeholders agree on several principles: reform should preserve the current employer-based system, allow Americans to purchase affordable and comprehensive coverage through a health insurance exchange, control costs by reforming reimbursement practices, invest in coordinated care, preventive care and health information technology, all the while improving care quality.

But the devil will certainly lie in the details. How will we finance reform? Will insurance companies accept new regulations of price and coverage and a new public plan that will compete with private insurers? Will the pharmaceutical industry allow for the reimportation of safe drugs? Will ideological conservatives accept a government mandate to purchase coverage? And will business groups support a plan if it mandates employers to provide coverage?

Many questions still linger, but the American public and key lawmakers are pushing for imminent health reform. During Monday’s fiscal responsibility conference, for instance, Sen. Chris Dodd, a member of the Banking Committee, said that he wants the Senate to pass a comprehensive health reform bill by Memorial Day.