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Health care reform law is only half a loaf

Democrats have now cemented the idea of expanded health care insurance coverage in US politics. The GOP erred on that point. But both parties must now get medical-cost containment done right.

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Americans can expect a host of political and legal challenges to the healthcare laws passed by the House in a historic vote on Sunday night. The mandate to buy insurance, the cuts to Medicare, the ban on funding for abortion, even the way the bills were passed – all may be subject to either change or outright reversal.

But on one point, the debate is likely over.

It will be hard for a future Congress, individual states, or the courts to roll back the idea that the basic desire for health is so universal that society must always look for new ways to help those seeking it.

The charitable impulse to restore the health of others has always been present in America. Few people with a health emergency, for example, are denied care at a hospital.

But as costs have risen with new technologies and treatments, the financial burden and the availability of care have became difficult issues. A shift was needed in responsibility for the costs.

Over the past half century, government has steadily taken over the task of providing care, first by aiding the poor and the elderly (Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS). And now, when this new law’s benefits are expected to take effect in 2014, just about everyone can have health insurance.

That key point won, the debate over other issues remains, especially the government’s role in restraining medical inflation.

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