The Right Thing To Do
As I write this column, Congress and the American people are debating whether the nation needs to reform our health insurance system. Many of us who are blessed with good insurance might wonder whether the present system really needs to be changed. The fact is, the current health insurance system is broken, and unless it is repaired, everyone will pay a price in some way, at some time.
In 2007, NEA conducted a member poll and found that almost three-quarters believe the health insurance system needs “significant” reform.
At our 2008 Representative Assembly, we adopted a New Business Item that laid out guiding principles we would support for health insurance reform, including coverage for all, comprehensive coverage without loopholes, preventive and wellness care, and using technology to improve quality and cut costs.
These principles are what NEA supports in health insurance reform. As for why we support it, it is in the best interest of America’s working families, including our members and our students.
Most of our members have some health insurance coverage, and NEA and our affiliates work hard to protect these benefits. Despite our best efforts, many members have seen an increase in out-of-pocket expenses, or reductions in their insurance coverage. Even if school districts absorb rising insurance costs, educators end up paying a price in the form of lower salary increases. The fact is, there are only so many dollars to go around, especially during this tough economy. As we all know, when health insurance costs go up, something else has to give.
Then there are the 45 million Americans without insurance today—including millions of children. Quality health care is essential to children’s well-being and their ability to learn. As educators, we know that students who can’t get the health care services they need run the risk of falling behind in school because of increased absenteeism. And we see the stress and guilt that consume parents who are unable to provide their children’s most basic needs. Without health insurance, they rarely receive any preventive care, but when they get sick and go to a hospital emergency room, everyone with insurance absorbs some of the cost.
So health insurance reform that reins in rising costs and expands coverage would protect the benefits of our members who already have health insurance and would ensure that all children could get the health care they need.
Protecting our members and the students we serve—those are powerful reasons why we support health insurance reform. But perhaps the most compelling reason is that it is the right thing to do. Just as we believe that education is a basic right for every child, shouldn’t health care be a basic right for every person who gets sick or injured?
Those millions of Americans without health insurance are our neighbors, friends—even some fellow NEA members. For them, reforming our broken system can literally be a matter of life or death.
Throughout our history, NEA has fought to expand and ensure the rights of all Americans, including the right to a public education. Today we continue that proud tradition through our support for health insurance reform.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel