SEIU President Andy Stern was on Capitol Hill yesterday to testify in the second of a series of three roundtables on health care reform. The roundtables, convened by Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, are the last official opportunities to provide input on health care reform before a final piece of legislation is drafted next month.
In addition to the statistics and numbers we've heard over and over again, Stern's testimony was built on the stories of everyday Americans affected by the health care crisis - many of which were submitted by SEIU members online. One of those Americans is Pat DeJong, an SEIU home care aide in Libby, MT:
There's a simple standard that SEIU uses to measure the success of the health care system: how does it work for our members - for Pat and her family? By that standard, without a doubt, our current system is failing. Miserably.
It is that same bar, Stern explained, that we've used to layout our vision for what health care should be. Here's what it will take to make health care work for Pat, our members, and all Americans:
1. Build on what works - but also build new alternatives for a changing economy.
About 160 million Americans get their coverage through their employer and, for many of them, it's a system that works well. But, for many others - especially small businesses, students, and retirees - employer-provided insurance isn't an affordable option. We need a public health insurance option that lowers costs across the board and gives everyone a path to affordable care.
2. Share responsibility for financing health care and promoting good health.
Employers, individuals, and government must all do their part to make sure we have a sustainable and affordable health care system that works for everyone. That included protections and tax credits for small businesses to help them remain competitive.
3. Establish a national standard for meaningful coverage.
Too many Americans find out the hard way that the real limits of their health coverage are buried in the fine print. Exemptions for chronic illnesses or catastrophic circumstances leave them without care when they need it most. Establishing a national standard of meaningful coverage would mean that every American would have the confidence of knowing their insurance affords them their right to adequate care.
4. Long-term services and supports must be covered for those who need them.
The safety net we provide to America's aging and disabled population is weak and full of holes. The very men and women whose hard work and ingenuity built this country deserve meaningful care in the twilight of life. Providing access to affordable care upfront will not only better serve our aging population, it will also save us money in the long run.
It's easy to get lost in the weeds when we start looking at facts and figures and budget outlays. Our health care system is huge, with lots of moving parts. Stern's testimony was an important reminder to step back and think about Pat - and all the real people whose everyday lives depend on what sort of future we write for health care.