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Pioneer Editorial: Time right for health care reform

Solving our health care crisis has so far eluded both a Democrat and a Republican president, both serving two terms. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, now has a crack at it and he's made it a priority of his young administration.

He wants a health care reform bill on his desk by October. This year.

It's easy to say the same forces that have fought back earnest efforts in the past will do so again, and succeed again. But this time, it seems different. The American public is fed up with turning over larger and larger portions of their paycheck to doctors, hospitals, clinics and pharmacists.

And as health insurance premiums soar, the United States is at a modern-history high of 46 million uninsured Americans -- truly a staggering figure. How to extend coverage to them is the question. Just expanding care ala Medicare would cause a taxpayer revolt, as it would be the taxpayers who foot the bill.

Yet, without adequate health insurance coverage, people without coverage will wait until their health care problem becomes acute and they seek the most expensive emergency room care.

In the political arena where views are polarized, it's safe to say adopting a universal care program, such as that in Canada or England, won't happen any day soon.

At the heart of the issue are plans to offer a government insurance program in competition with private sector insurance, the theory being competition will drive premium prices down.

But the fear is competition will drive prices too far down, and people will jump ship from the private carrier to the public carrier and we end up with what opponents like to label "socialized medicine that rations care."

There is no doubt good competition can cause premiums to level off or even drop. If it takes a pubic entry in the insurance field to do so, that's fine. But the line must not be crossed where it becomes more prudent to take the government insurance over the private insurance. That would drive the private carrier out of business and put the government in the health care provision service.

Other measures must be included also, such as a cap on malpractice awards, a move to prevent doctors from ordering unnecessary and expensive tests to cover their rear from lawsuits. There is much talk about making medical records electronic, a good move, but we're not convinced that it will cause large savings. It still should be pursued.

Whatever the solution, it will cost money to save long-term money. But the longer we wait, the more government services - and taxpayer dollars -- will be consumed solely by health care costs. That trend has got to stop.