First, Let's Agree There Is a Problem with Healthcare, Medical Malpractice Insurance

side note: This article calls for both sides of the debate to agree there’s a problem with American healthcare, and then address what that problem includes, like the fact doctors charge exorbitant fees and order unnecessary and costly tests because they must pay enormous premiums for malpractice insurance and protect themselves against lawsuits.

It’s not a good idea to take sheets right from the washtub and put them on the bed. They need to be put on the clothesline first to dry in the sunshine (or so they might have said before the invention of the clothes dryer). Public policy is the same. It needs a good airing and spirited debate before becoming law.

It’s becoming clearer every day that Congress’ health-care reform proposal is still rather damp and not fit for bed-making. Unfortunately, what’s happening in and around town halls this month is not the spirited debate that is needed. Instead, we have opposing sides of placard-wavers screaming in each others’ faces.

We all need to step back, take a few breaths and think about the situation. We should be having a debate about how we can solve the problem of the high and constantly rising cost of health care and health insurance. But here’s the stumbling block: We can’t even agree that there is a problem.

Our debate should be about how to solve the health-care problem – by means of the government or by private enterprise. But that discussion is being drowned out by those who think there should be no debate at all.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone believes our health-care system is just fine the way it is. Hospitals charge the insured exorbitant fees because they must provide free care to the uninsured from whom all the money cannot be squeezed. Doctors charge exorbitant fees and order unnecessary and costly tests because they must pay enormous premiums for malpractice insurance and protect themselves against lawsuits.

The resulting high cost of health insurance is forcing employers – who pay for most of it – to shed employees and lower productivity. What is most troublesome is how the high cost of health insurance is making self-employment impossible for so many who might be starting new businesses. And this is happening in what we have always thought was the land of opportunity.

A letter to the editor last week noted that the members of a family operating a dairy farm in South Franklin Township are paying combined nearly $3,000 a month for health insurance, which is 12 percent of the gross income from their business. How can we grow small businesses in this country with that kind of a disincentive?

A strong argument can be made that the private sector can solve this problem. And an equally strong argument can be made that this problem is the duty of government to solve. In this representative republic of ours, it’s up to our Congress to engage in this debate. Realistically, there will be no winner. The public policy that will emerge will be softened by compromise. But chances are, it will be an improvement.

The Obama administration may have erred in putting this legislation on the fast track and pushing for its completion before the end of summer. Health-care reform is too important to be hustled into law at the speed of the Patriot Act. Let it hang on the line in the sunshine a little longer, and please, let the debate be civil.