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Welcome bi-partisan progress on health care

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, meet before the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, the morning after they reached a deal to resume federal payments to health insurers that President Donald Trump had halted. Sen. Alexander says Trump called him Wednesday morning "to be encouraging" of bipartisan efforts to come up with a plan to stabilize health insurance premiums.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, meet before the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, the morning after they reached a deal to resume federal payments to health insurers that President Donald Trump had halted. Sen. Alexander says Trump called him Wednesday morning "to be encouraging" of bipartisan efforts to come up with a plan to stabilize health insurance premiums. AP

How welcome the announcement last week from Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., that their Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions had reached an agreement. The bill they’re proposing would stabilize the insurance market by restoring the cost-sharing reduction payments the president stopped last week and make it easier for states to offer plans with fewer requirements.

This modest but important reform is the result of months of patient work by this committee that included hearing from Republican and Democratic governors and others who offered practical suggestions for improving the current system.

While the bill has bi-partisan support in the Senate, whether it moves forward seems to depend now on President Trump’s support. His response has varied widely, and his administration is pushing for more anti-Affordable Care Act concessions. Not surprising since the president has been working actively to sabotage the ACA by discouraging new enrollment and doing what he can to keep premiums high so as to bolster his argument that “Obamacare is imploding.”

If not for the right reasons, we can hope that our president will be so ready to take credit for the legislation that he’ll eventually lend his support. In the meantime we should encourage Georgia’s senators and representatives to give this compromise their strong support. Health care has been so politicized for so long and people suffer as a result.

And there remains much more to do, at the national, state and local levels, to improve health and to do it more efficiently. Ironically last week, President Trump’s unfortunate choice for drug czar, Tom Marino, R-Penn., brought needed attention again to the negative power exercised by the pharmaceutical lobby. Push-back is in order on the lax regulation of opioids and on the over-prescribing and over-pricing of medication generally.

And in Georgia, it’s way past time for our governor and Legislature to craft a plan that would take advantage of the option to expand Medicaid. There are 300,000 to 600,000 uninsured Georgians who could receive immediate coverage. Besides being the right thing to do morally, this would be so fiscally wise.

As results in the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid demonstrate, everyone benefits — hospitals and citizens — with premiums statewide decreasing by as much as 7 percent. And when people are healthier to begin with, the savings down the line are incalculable. Furthermore, we and our Georgia representatives should also be insisting that funding which expired on Sept. 30 be restored for these proven programs:

▪  The widely popular “CHIP” (Children’s Health Insurance Program) that covers some 130,000 Georgia children.

▪  Medicaid funds for hospitals that deliver a high level of indigent care

▪  Financial support for community health centers.

▪  Federal funding that provides essential support to rural Georgia hospitals.

None of this should be reduced to political gamesmanship. Health care legislation and budgets are moral documents. They are about what we hold dear. They are about the human family. They are about people. Providing for the common good is the business of politics. The good faith and patience demonstrated by the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions reminds us how it’s supposed to work.

Steve Bullington is a resident of Adrian.

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