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Pioneer Editorial: Americans want health care reform

The more the recession deepens, the more apparent it becomes that rising health care costs are a significant cornerstone of family financial troubles. A majority of Americans want health care reform now -- and a significant number are worried about the cost.

Can we have both? Probably not. Extending health coverage to the 50 million uninsured Americans will cost money, a lion's share of health care reform's estimated $1 trillion cost over 10 years. Yet without making sure all Americans are in the health care system, we won't be able to control the skyrocketing costs of emergency care when the uninsured finally seek treatment.

A report released Wednesday by Families USA states the most important factor causing the loss of health care coverage is the rising cost of health care premiums, which have risen 119 percent from 1999 to 2008.

Compounded by the sour economy, more and more Americans find they can't afford health care insurance, and are dropping out. The report found for Minnesota that 430 people will lose their health coverage, on average, every week. Some 1,880 people will lose their health coverage, on average, every month. And, 22,580 people will lose their health coverage every year.

That also means that as every week passes without congressional action, 430 Minnesotans will lose their health coverage.

Health care reform measures languish in the U.S. Senate, while U.S. House Democrats unveiled their plan Tuesday.

The House plan expands coverage but would also raise taxes on high-income people and provide public health insurance to compete with the private sector -- both highly controversial matters.

The House bill would create a government-run health plan, starting in 2013. Opponents fear that the plan will force private insurers out of business. The measure is needed, to push private premiums down, but safeguards need to be put in place that keeps currently private insured individuals from jumping to the public plan, which should be reserved for those who can't afford coverage.

Also controversial is the surcharge on the top 1.2 percent of wage earners, a graduated tax ranging from 1 percent to 5.4 percent for incomes starting at $280,000. Democrats believe the surtax could raise $544 million over 10 years -- more than half the cost of health care reform. It might be a cost well worth taking under a fair taxation system.

Troubling is a House bill provision that would levy a new tax on individuals who go without coverage. It would mostly affect those who could ill-afford to pay the new tax. Provide subsidies or tax credits would provide a better carrot than a stick.

President Obama wants a bill before Congress takes its August recess -- and so do the American people.