Between the misinformation spread by conservative interest groups and the unapologetic fearmongering by Republican lawmakers, our nation's health care debate is being hijacked for political gain.
After weeks of emotionally charged town halls, where rumors of death panels and government access to bank accounts have dominated, it's apparent that not just the 47 million uninsured in this country stand to lose big. The American public is squandering an opportunity to advance the conversation surrounding health care reform, while political officials exploit our collective anxiety.
The hype and hysteria of the last several weeks are continuing to escalate. It's gotten so bad that simply using the word "reform" these days is enough to get you labeled a socialist. But the hard truth is that our health care system is no longer sustainable. This year, health care costs are on track to outpace the GDP. Yet, the American public refuses to address what isn't working—or the fact that a government option might be the only viable one for millions of people—out of some misguided sense of fear. And that fear is causing us to act like self-absorbed adolescents.
The heckling and the tantrums have to give way to level heads so we can start conducting business like grown-ups to secure our country's future. President Obama has to step up, too. While I admire him for wanting to take the high road and remain above the fray and the rumors, hes much more effective when he dispels the blather and sets the tone of the conversation.
He's been given another chance to do so following information released last week by the Congressional Budget Office. In a letter to members of Congress, the head of the CBO, Douglas Elmendorf, contradicted claims by the Obama administration that preventive care would help curb skyrocketing health care costs. Instead, Elmendorf reported that preventive care costs more money than it actually saves.
This is the time for the president to shape the discourse by, say, pointing to experts from the Centers for Disease Control who are concerned about the increasing number of HIV cases. Prior to 1992, the number of people contracting the disease had started to decline. Most HIV advocates cite preventive care as the crucial missing component. The president might also mention the 1.4 million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year, many in the critical later stages when the disease has already spread. In these cases, preventive care, including targeting at-risk populations and developing early screening methods, would undoubtedly be cheaper than the costs of long-term care.
Furthermore, preventive care is about more than just identifying who may develop cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure. It's about overall wellness, diet and nutrition, and exercise. It's about Americans taking responsibility for their health and deciding to become their own advocates. In the long-run, that saves everyone money. This is the message the president should be promoting to bolster support for his plan.
As we gear up for whats likely to be an exhaustive dialogue in the months ahead, well see whether President Obama can get the nation back on track or whether his government option will fall by the wayside. In the meantime, I'm hoping the angry protesters will take a chill pill and decide to pull up a seat at the grown-up table.
Chana Garcia is a journalist, blogger, and cancer survivor who lives in New York City.