Fixing the economy dominates today's headlines, of course, and may make repairing our broken health care system seem the least of our worries. And yet, with the number of uninsured growing and health care costs rising, it's clear that confronting both is crucial.
Recently speaking to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama expressed his desire to fix our broken health care system. Yet despite the rhetoric, both Congress and the administration are short on details. The truth, though, is that Congress and the president need only look to their own health insurance program as a model for dealing with the tens of millions of Americans who lack health insurance.
How to cover the uninsured is a particularly important question in the Hispanic community. A recent Pfizer report estimates that, of the 16 percent of the population it says lacks insurance, one third are Hispanic. This means millions of Americans are living day-to-day, hoping they won't need medical attention. If they do, they run the risk of paying out-of-pocket for the cost of a doctor's visit.
As we know, that's generally more than most can afford. And with Hispanics being more prone to certain medical conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure, preventive treatment becomes even more important.
Unfortunately many on the extreme left are seizing upon this predicament as an excuse to push for government-run coverage. Looking to the model of European countries, some in Congress want to create a health system in which government officials make the key decisions. We need only look to Europe to realize how allowing the government to run the system severely limits consumer choice and freedoms. With universal health care, the government essentially decides what the patient receives. Lower-income families end up having to accept that, while the wealthy can buy additional care.
So if this form of universal health coverage isn't the answer, what is? One idea is to create a system that will largely mirror the plan members of Congress and all other federal employees enjoy. Under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, a "health insurance exchange" functions like a shopping mall for plans, making it easier for families to select one each year. Families can decide what plan they want.
Additionally, this insurance is portable. One can remain insured even after changing jobs. This important characteristic would be particularly helpful to the Hispanic community, where many move from job to job frequently.
As the fastest growing demographic group in the country, it's vital that we demand a place at the table as Congress and the administration craft policy on something as vital as health care reform for our country. The implications of broad-sweeping proposals will be felt for decades and understanding the consequences -- particularly as they relate to the Hispanic community -- becomes even more important.
Before lawmakers rush forward with any proposals, let's make sure they consider the best ways to cover families, without creating an ineffective bureaucracy.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in El Diario