We must pass health care reform now for the sake of people in need

President Obama has said we are at a time of great challenge. We face wars abroad and a struggling economy at home. But with great challenges, come great opportunities. The problems we face require more than the usual Washington quick-fix, they require fundamental reform.
There are few better examples of the need for fundamental reform than in our health care system.
Our health care system is broken. Health insurance premiums are going through the roof and the number of uninsured persons is rising. Forty-five million Americans don’t have insurance, either because they can’t afford the high premiums or because they were denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Many families are loosing their choice of doctors due to insurance cutbacks – some are loosing the choice to even visit a doctor when they’re sick. Elderly couples across Mississippi are being forced to choose between buying groceries or the medications they need.
We’ve all heard stories from friends and families who have been affected by the high costs of health care. In Mississippi, nearly 20 percent of our population is uninsured. In the last year, 37.1 percent of Mississippians under the age of 65 were uninsured, including 75.6 percent who went more than six months without insurance. All of these averages are much higher than the national average, including the number of uninsured children.
Just over 11 percent of American children are uninsured. In Mississippi, that number is more than 16 percent. Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of Gov. Haley Barbour who has forced staggering budget cuts to children insurance programs.
Turning a blind eye to so many people in need is not the mark of high morality. We must reach out and give a hand up to those in need.
But reforming the health care system isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s a fiscal imperative. State and local governments are facing cutbacks across the board and can no longer bare the burden of emergency care for the uninsured. Businesses, large and small, are struggling to balance their books and are forced to cut jobs because they can’t afford the rising cost of insuring their employees.
In Mississippi, less than 30 percent of small businesses offer health care to their employees. And the state cannot overcome the deficit of health care spending. Mississippi currently spends more than 18 percent of its state product on health related expenditures. Considering the budget problems we face today, it is unrealistic to think we can continue to fund health care costs at such a high percentage.
The burden is no less on insured families, either. In Mississippi, 30 percent of families spend more than 10 percent of their paycheck on health care cost. The average annual premium for insured families is more than $10,000. That is a burden too high for Mississippi working families.
Reforming the system will undoubtedly be a huge undertaking. Health care is an issue that affects every American and the only way we can successfully change the system is by bringing all voices to the table. That’s why President Obama will tackle this in the same way he has taken on all the major challenges of his administration – by listening to voices on all sides of the debate.
We must move beyond the divisive arguments that have plagued past attempts at reform. Americans can no longer bear the burden of a broken health care system. We must act now to enact reform that works for families, local governments, and businesses alike.

Jamie Franks is chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party. He resides in Lee County. Contact him through sam@mississippidemocrats.com.

Jamie Franks/Special to the NEMS Daily Journal