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Health care reform ... take a deep breath

As many people enjoy what is left of summer, the politics of health care reform is working into a froth.

I’m going to write about health care reform this month, but I need to point out that, while the states will be impacted greatly by what, if anything, passes in Washington, D.C., it’s a federal level issue right now.

I get a lot of e-mail and phone calls telling me to vote one way or the other on the current proposals, but I’m in the state legislature and I don’t get a vote. When you’ve made up your mind about what you support or don’t, you need to contact your federal representatives, meaning Congressman Salazar and Senators Udall and Bennet.

I was on a health care reform panel locally in the past couple of weeks. A number of people came and, for a change, it was a diverse group of people in the room. The diversity in thought and the lack of preconceived ideas about what is “the solution” made the questions and answers the most interesting to me.

I’ve been on the Colorado House Health and Human Services committee for most of the time I’ve been in the Legislature. Before that, I spent many years on the hospital board for Mercy Regional Medical Center. I’ve been on special committees related to health care issues, mostly focused on how health care providers might work together differently to provide the best quality of care to the patient while finding less expensive and more efficient ways to deliver that care.

Over time, I’ve become a health care policy junkie and I’m very interested in seeing how the conversation goes over the next month. I wonder whether the congressmen and senators really will spend August checking in with the American people about what they value in health care.

I hope so.

I also remain open to learning what a majority of people want. I’d like to offer a few suggestions to those who also care to talk about this topic with their constituents, coworkers, family and friends.

Start by taking a deep breath. I, for one, am immensely relieved that Congress didn’t jam something through before the August recess. Again, I’m in the state Legislature and we have four months to pass legislation, then we’re done for the year. Tight timeframes are a reality, but they alone should never drive major policy changes. Health care reform is not one topic, but really many overlapping and complicated topics. Give it its due.

Emotions are running very high right now. Rushing into federal legislation with huge impacts on so many people would be ill advised. I’ve not yet heard a clear consensus from the voters, although there are those who are passionately sure about where they stand. Maybe a month of national focus will help.

The best thing that could happen is that the politicians and the voters will all take this seriously enough to educate themselves on what the problems are and what solutions are being proposed. Sound bites and name calling won’t cut it.

This is a very important conversation to be had in America since health care costs have escalated, and continue to climb, to an unsustainable level. We have parts of excellent health care, especially our providers, yet we don’t have an efficient and effective delivery system or consistent high quality, as proven by problems most of us are aware of, over and over again. Money often isn’t put to best uses. Yet, health care reform can’t be considered in a vacuum.

We’re in the midst of a deep recession and now, more than usual, we don’t know what our futures hold. It’s a serious mistake on the politicians’ part if they fail to recognize what else the American public is dealing with right now. The health care reform conversation can and should be had, but cooler heads must prevail.