Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Choices Surrounding Health Care Reform

Health care reform has recently taken center stage in American politics, and for good reason. Currently, the nature of the American health care system threatens our ideals of opportunity and prosperity. While we spend $2.2 trillion on health care — almost twice as much as other similarly developed nations — many American families’ livelihood are threatened by rising health care costs. The amount that we collectively spend on health care also threatens our relative prosperity. As the White House has argued, America cannot continue to compete on the global market if so much of our wealth continues to be consumed by health care costs.

Fortunately, Congress has taken notice and is currently working on legislation geared towards health care reform. As Politico.com reports, part of the debate surrounding this legislation is about finding a way to pay for it. Congress has proposed many ways of paying for reform. One plan is to increase income tax on families making over $250,000. Another is to tax health benefits for employees receiving more then $17,000 in coverage a year from their employers. A third option exists and involves creating new smaller taxes such as a surcharge on soft drinks and a repeal of tax benefit on health care advertisements.

But there is also another side to the debate. As Salon.com reports, the debate has shifted towards the type of reform that Congress should pass. On the one hand, traditional liberals prefer the President’s recommendation of a public option system. This type of reform would create a government run health care system that individuals could use as an option to employer provided health care. On the other hand, conservative Democrats known as Blue Dog Democrats have proposed a co-op system which would create non-profit state level health care agencies which would exchange the health care plans that individuals buy for large plans from private insurance companies. The type of reform that Congress eventually focuses on will depend on the politics of the situation, and proponents of both systems are leveraging their positions on other issues as clout for their system.

The debate on health care reform directly affects the American Muslim population. According the Pew Research center, nationally 59% of Muslim American families make $50,000 or less. Additionally, a significant number of American Muslims families, 24%, are self employed or small business owners. The rise of health care cost affects the ability of the self employer and small business owner to provide health insurance for their families and employees.

More generally, the choices that Congress faces in paying for health care reform reflects broader choices than just who is going to foot the bill. A tax on health benefits would be a tax on mostly middle class families, a tax no one wants to levy in these economic times. A tax on families making over $250,000 would avoid this but faces its own political risks. Perhaps the most interesting choice is a tax on soft drinks and advertisements. Many countries tax soft drink both as a way to raise money and to curb consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks.

The two debates are not simply choices based on demographics, money, or politics- they are choices of values as well. Which value should the nation tax: our security, our material success, or our unhealthy vices? And furthermore, how should one govern: do we compromise our ideas of what the better system is to pass some legislation, or wait for the perfect conditions to pass the perfect plan? The debate questions our ideas of pluralism and democracy.



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7:12 PM


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