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It is now clear that Congress won't send a health-care-reform bill to President Barack Obama before its August recess, a deadline originally set by Obama. It's also clear that whatever bill does emerge from Congress will include significant compromises from what Obama proposed in last year's presidential campaign.
We believe both those developments are good news, though. Obama was right to originally suggest an August deadline for a bill because as he said, "In Washington nothing gets done without deadlines." And as others have pointed out, a health-care bill probably needs to pass this year because many members of Congress will be too nervous to vote on such a controversial issue in an election year.
But debating the issue until September or October to make sure it is done right is more prudent than rushing through a bill that may not help in the long run.
After increasing the federal budget deficit with stimulus moves to get the economy going again, it would be wise to make sure that a health-care-reform bill does not add to the deficit. So we give a group of fiscally conservative Democratic congressmen, including our own district's Baron Hill, credit for insisting on that.
Deleting the option of having a government-sponsored health-insurance program compete with private companies may also be a good move. Yes, the private companies have not always done a great job, but having them compete with a federal program that doesn't need to make a profit to survive (and could possibly end up operating in a deficit mode, as much of the government does) doesn't seem fair to the private companies.
To their credit, private insurance companies now support offering insurance to nearly everyone, including those who they would have previously turned down because of pre-existing health problems.
For those who wonder if having to cover such people will make insurance rates go up for healthy people, it should be noted that the general public already indirectly bears the cost for the seriously ill uninsured.
One reason hospital costs are so high is they charge those prices to people who have insurance to make up for serving those who don't have insurance. The cost of insurance then keeps rising because of the hospitals' high rates. Thus if nearly everyone is insured, hospitalization costs and insurance costs should actually go down.
That is especially likely to be true if a reform bill puts more emphasis on preventive care, which we believe it should. People who have regular physical examinations are generally healthier and discover most problems while they can be treated more cheaply than if they were not discovered until later.
So an effective health-care bill should probably require insurers to provide physical exams free of charge - or with very low co-payments - at least every two years to their customers. Requiring insurers to send notices to customers every two years that it is time for them to get a physical might also be a good idea.
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