UPDATED:Health Care Reform Needs Leaders, Not Apologists

As the U.S. government announced that health care spending topped $2 trillion in 2006, the Colorado General Assembly announced that it will take several years to keep a promise to provide health care coverage to all of the state’s residents.Talk about a tale of two worlds.

In one live the politicians who break campaign promises to fix a broken health care system. In the other live the rest of us, who face the physical and financial pain of their timidity.

A year ago, in his first State of the State speech, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter promised near-universal health coverage for Coloradans by 2010. The state’s Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Andrew Romanoff proclaimed health care reform among his top priorities.

Now we hear fear-mongering Republicans spewing election-year verbiage about socialized medicine and the tax money needed to fix the health care system.

“Most Coloradans enjoy good health insurance,” state Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany told colleagues during Wednesday’s opening-day session of the legislature. “We should not take a wrecking ball to the current system.”

In an article published Tuesday, Democratic state Senate President Peter Groff told The Denver Post “the state doesn’t have to go for ‘the whole enchilada.'” of health care reform this year.

So as members of the state’s blue ribbon health care reform commission prepare to present five possible programs for near-universal coverage, the state’s legislators prepare to go squirrelly.

All the General Assembly seems comfortable doing is extending health care coverage to more children whose parents cannot afford health insurance, but who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, the government-subsidized health payment plan for the poor.

President George W. (standing for “We Don’t Want No Socialized Medicine”) Bush keeps vetoing a national expansion of that program. But Colorado already doesn’t cover a lot of kids who qualify under the existing law.

This doesn’t come close to curing what ails us by 2010. Yet the insured right-wingers wail on about government control of health care. The insured left-wingers renege on pledges to fix the mess. Members of Congress and the president remain covered by some of the best government-subsidized health insurance available. And a vast cast of elderly hypocrites bemoans socialized medicine as they sup hungrily at the trough of socialized medicine that is Medicare.

Americans are by nature greedy and self-absorbed. They have to understand how the broken health care system is hurting them.

A 2005 study estimated that nationally those who cover their families with private health insurance paid an average of $922 in additional premiums per year to cover the costs of caring for the nation’s then-44 million uninsured. By 2010 the Families USA study predicted the added cost would average $1,502 per family per year.

In Colorado the Families USA study said a family’s added annual private insurance premiums to cover the uninsured were $934 in 2005. The projected cost by 2010? A whopping $1,570.

A Kaiser study showed that $40.7 billion in medical care went uncompensated in 2004.

A Harvard study showed that people who don’t have health insurance cost the government a lot more to care for once they reach 65 and qualify for Medicare.

President “We Don’t Want No Socialized Medicine” ignores that when he tells the American people that everyone who needs medical treatment can get it at the emergency room. So do politicians who say we can’t afford comprehensive health care reform.

The uninsured population in this country has grown to an estimated 47 million. Some 790,000 of those people live in Colorado.

The costs of dribbling out health care reform need to be discussed in every political forum in 2008 – from the presidential campaign to the Colorado Capitol.

It’s way past time for politicians to get some guts.

Dealing with this crisis requires leaders, not apologists.