My hometown of Prescott is a small community in southwestern Arkansas with about 3,700 people. It’s a quiet and cordial town where people still know their neighbor’s name, still say “hello” to one another in the grocery store and still help one another out when times are tough. And times certainly are tough. As the Congressman for Arkansas’ 4th district, I represent 29 counties that cover much of the southern and western parts of the state and include about 150 towns, many of which are just like Prescott.
It is our job as legislators to present the facts,
listen to those we represent and serve as their voice in our nation’s capital. The people I represent, many of whom are generational residents of rural areas, are rightfully skeptical of promises made in Washington, D.C. Countless politicians and programs have promised much over the past few decades, and few have delivered. So, when Washington proposed to overhaul the health care system last year and take about $1 trillion to do so, my constituents were suspicious, as was I — suspicious that Washington would again fail to deliver on the promises it was making.
The health care reform process has been a never-ending odyssey of misunderstandings, miscalculations and misinterpretations. As a result, most Americans remain confused, scared, angry or all of the above. I believe the overwhelming disdain for incumbents we now see in this country is a resounding rejection of politics as usual, and, in particular, how both political parties have conducted themselves over the past year on this very important issue.
Every American understands that our health care system is broken on a fundamental level and needs change. In a capitalistic society, the universal principle of every business is profit. Without it, you don’t exist. Therefore, health insurance companies will do everything they can to make a profit. As a capitalist, my instinct is to defend a private company’s right to turn a profit and keep its doors open. However, when that profit comes at the expense of the lives and health of countless Americans, we are forced to evaluate the practical approach of pure ideology and conclude that it simply does not work in a debate about health care — and it never will.
One thing in this debate is clear: The status quo is simply not acceptable, nor is it sustainable. Next to making adequate health insurance coverage available for the uninsured and underinsured, the skyrocketing cost of health care in this country is the most pressing reason why we must act. We can never get our deficits under control or balance our budget again unless we can stop health care costs from rising at twice the rate of inflation. In the past eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And the first $900 those of us with insurance pay in premiums goes to cover the costs of treating the uninsured in emergency rooms across this country. Ensuring American citizens have quality health care and making it both affordable and accessible is key to the long-term strength of our economy.
There are three ways we can fundamentally reform our health care system: insurance industry reforms, containing costs and affordability. First and foremost, we must reform the way the health insurance industry operates. Every family needs and deserves health insurance much like they require utilities to heat their homes, and our laws should regulate health insurance companies just as they regulate the utility companies today, including prohibitions on pre-existing conditions, canceling your coverage when you get sick and caps on the total amount they will pay for your health care expenses over a lifetime.
Secondly, we must explore every available cost-containment measure, and no proposal on Capitol Hill goes far enough in this arena. Every step possible must be taken to root out waste, fraud and abuse, and we need historic investments in preventive medicine, such as physical education in schools and early detection programs.
Finally, we cannot and should not move from our current employer-based health care system, which is uniquely American. Instead, we must build on what we have, which most Americans like, and make it better. It should be more affordable for employers and more portable for employees. As a former small-business owner, I feel strongly that we must protect our small businesses — the backbone of the American economy. That is why I oppose employer mandates and why I support a “marketplace” that allows small businesses and the self-employed to come together as one big group, having greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees, including Members of Congress, have access to affordable insurance, and I believe every American should have access to the same coverage I do.
I feel strongly that a majority of Americans are ideologically in the middle, as am I, and I believe the middle is from where we should legislate. If there is one thing my hardworking parents and my small-town values have taught me throughout my life, it is that common sense must always rule the day. However remote, I look forward to that day on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Mike Ross is a Democrat from Arkansas.