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Health care in need of national reform

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By The Staff

As we were preparing to embark on an effort to reform our state’s health care system in this year’s legislative session, a newspaper cartoon caught my eye. Titled “The simplified health care program,” it showed two street vendors of the hotdog-stand variety. One of them offered “Fried Stuff” for $1. The other offered a defibrillator, $10 a jolt.While it was a humorous exaggeration, the sad fact is that too many of our citizens aren’t as healthy as they can be and, all too often, drastic and expensive health care is the best they can hope for.The problem affects every New Mexican – even those who have insurance and get basic, preventive care. When a child’s poor eyesight or hearing isn’t diagnosed, that child begins failing in school, limiting his or her future employment options. When parents can’t get a child’s cold quickly dealt with, they miss days at work while their child misses time in class.When people end up in emergency rooms for illnesses that could have been treated earlier and easier, the extra costs become a burden on everyone.We’ve all seen our premiums and co-pays rise in recent years. There are many causes for that inflation, and one of them is something we intend to address: High numbers of uninsured health-care consumers.New Mexico has about 400,000 uninsured people, and nearly a fourth of them are children. About half of our uninsured adults are hard-working, taxpaying citizens. But when 40 percent of businesses in the state don’t offer health insurance, they have little choice but to gamble with their lives. They can take walks and eat healthfully, but with one break of a bone or the diagnosis of a serious illness, their families risk absolute ruin.For the last five years, we’ve studied the health coverage problem and have developed some solutions. We’ve increased the number of children eligible for insurance, used S-CHIP money to get more families, including adults, enrolled. We’ve allowed children to stay on their parents’ health plans until they’re 25. It’s helped but it’s clearly not enough.Our Human Services Department, working with all the stakeholders – insurance companies, health care providers, consumers, advocates and business leaders – spent the last year working on the Health Solutions New Mexico plan. We heard debate on other options, but I believe that Health Solutions is the most comprehensive, the least disruptive and the best way to begin a five-year reform process that can adapt to future conditions.What we truly need is national health care reform, which I hope we’ll get in a coming Democratic administration. But lacking that for now, we need to act.The potential cost of the Health Solutions plan has led to a few raised eyebrows. While the projections do represent a major public investment, the reality is that, if we do nothing at all to change the current system, the public cost will continue to rise, the private cost will continue to rise and we’ll continue to have 400,000 uninsured New Mexicans.Health Solutions knits together the various components it takes to reduce the uninsured and provide health care.Creation of a Health Care Authority will allow us to impose reforms on the insurance industry, including a requirement that at least 85 percent of your premium cost goes to providing care.People who are content with their current plan will be allowed to stay on it.Others will be able to take advantage of new and existing public programs, including a fund that comes from businesses that choose not to provide health insurance.We can’t piecemeal our way to reform. We need all the elements of the plan to stay knitted together to ensure the system works.If you knew a way to help a fifth of all New Mexicans lead healthier, more productive lives, you’d do it. If you knew a way to build a workforce unencumbered by hospital debt, you’d do it. We need your help as we go forward to do just that.Join us for the sake of a healthier New Mexico.Oh, and try to lay off the “fried stuff.”