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Politics shouldn’t hinder the need for health care reform COMMENTARY Estella Hyde

FOR TOO many people, the lack of affordable, quality health care is closing the door on the American dream.

Right now, our health care system costs too much, wastes too much, makes too many mistakes and gives us back too little value for our money. This sad diagnosis is shared by many on both sides of the political aisle.

No matter where you stand on the issue of health care reform, almost everyone agrees that doing nothing simply is not an option. Failure to act will only mean:

• The financial burden of health care will only get worse over time. If nothing is done, employer-sponsored insurance premiums will jump nearly 40 percent by 2012, and almost double by 2016. Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance premiums would likely increase at similar rates.

• Insurance will become more unaffordable. Health insurance premiums will jump from 6.7 percent of median household income this year to 9 percent in four years and to 12 percent in eight years.

• Consumers will pay more for less coverage. The average health insurance deductible – what people have to pay before their insurance kicks in – is expected to climb 73 percent in the next eight years to more than $2,000.

Affordable health care choices for all Americans must be the goal of any reform effort.

This basic necessity is becoming increasingly out of reach for many individuals and families, and the recent recession has made a serious problem much worse.

Among the most vulnerable are people aged 50 to 64 who lack employer-sponsored insurance. For too many of them, the individual insurance market is often unavailable at any price due to exclusions for pre-existing conditions. In Pennsylvania, 229,237 residents ages 50 to 64 lack health insurance, mostly because they can’t afford the high premiums that are based on age and medical history.

In addition, drug costs are soaring. In our state, 28 percent of those enrolled in the Medicare Part D drug benefit have landed in the infamous doughnut hole, potentially facing thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs.

But statistics don’t convey the human toll suffered by those who cannot afford health care. At AARP, we hear their stories all the time: Cancer patients who cannot afford health insurance or prescription drugs; workers who quit their jobs to care for ailing spouses because they cannot afford to pay for in-home care; or people who burn through their life savings, lose their homes and end up in bankruptcy because someone got sick.

AARP is committed to improving the quality, effectiveness and affordability of health care. That’s why we believe reform proposals must strengthen and improve Medicare, protect people’s choice of doctor and insurance plan, stop insurance companies from charging older people unaffordable premiums, and guarantee dependable, affordable coverage.

With all the recent stories about health care proposals and protesters, it’s easy to forget that people’s lives are at risk. We can’t play politics with health care reform and we can’t let vested interests, profits or scare tactics designed to preserve the status quo come before people in this debate.

The bottom line is we all have a stake in health care reform. AARP is working hard with members of Congress from both parties to achieve meaningful reforms that improve the quality of our health care system while making it more affordable for us all.

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