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Moving healthcare up on US agenda

A bipartisan group is calling on Congress to embrace a plan for universal coverage. Others say the political timing is off.

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Social Security or healthcare reform?

A coalition of more than 150 major corporations, unions, healthcare organizations, religious groups, and pension providers representing more than 150 million Americans came together this week to tell Congress and the president that they're focusing on the wrong issue.

"The healthcare system is in crisis today. Social Security is not," says Henry Simmons, president of the National Coalition on Health Care in Washington. "Healthcare is a far more serious, immediate, and destructive problem than Social Security."

While few quibble with the forecast that in 40 years Social Security may be able to provide only about 80 percent of promised benefits, coalition members say the nation's healthcare problems are dragging down the nation's overall economy: They're increasing the cost of doing business as they undermine Americans' standard of living.

In fact, 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all. And insurance premiums are rising so fast - by double digits annually - that corporations are requiring individuals to pay more, and many small businesses are forgoing coverage altogether. And as those costs go up, American businesses are becoming less competitive in a global marketplace, where most industrialized nations provide some kind of national healthcare.

The bipartisan coalition, which is made up of groups as diverse as General Motors and Calpers, the nation's largest public pension plan, has called on Congress to embrace a plan for universal coverage - that is, every American would have some kind of healthcare coverage within five years. It also presented an analysis claiming such reform would save the nation as much as $125 billion annually within the decade.

"The upfront investment needed to fund systemwide reform ... would be far offset by the savings," says Dr. Simmons. "The savings would be huge ... and they would grow year after year thereafter. In addition, employers who now provide coverage would save massive amounts of money, compared to the costs they'd incur in the absence of reform."

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