There is an alarming, house-on-fire hurry in Washington to have a government design for America’s health care system completed by Congress within days!

President Barack Obama and his supporters are campaigning across the nation, and putting pressure on every member of Congress, to pass a far-reaching legislative overhaul of one-seventh of the American economy that will impact every person in the country. The trouble is, the details of this “change” remain undefined.

Americans are being urged to write to their senators and representatives and demand support for a plan that we don’t know very much about. Promises of “access” and platitudes on “affordability” sound good — but what do these words mean? Does “access” mean that current medical care will stay the same, or will there be new hospitals and more doctors in rural areas? Does “affordability” mean that health insurance will cost less, or more, or does that depend on who you are, where you live and where you work?

This question points to the accurate nature of America’s health care “crisis.” It is a financial problem much more than a medical problem. Right? Most people get care, and are satisfied with their medical treatment. The problems come when it is time to pay the bills, or the insurance that pays the bills.

If 5 or 10 percent of American citizens do not qualify for current government coverage, but still cannot afford health insurance, taking over the entire medical system is not the answer. The disconnect between President Obama and the members of Congress who argue for immediate approval of an unwritten plan to control everything is that their goals reach far beyond reforming the financial part of the health care system.

Government control of the financial solution is not a good idea, based on its track record. Budget tricks in Washington and Augusta should make people very skeptical of the latest cost-shifting proposals involving Medicare and Medicaid and a new government-run insurance program. Federal and state governments already “save” by underpaying doctors, hospitals and other providers, which makes non-government patients pay more. But if more people are on government plans, who will be left to make up this difference?

The current system is flawed, but it works for more than 90 percent of the people in America. There are complaints and treatments are expensive. Doctors are well paid. Hospital and insurance executives are well paid. Nurses, medical technicians and other caregivers make a good living, too. Cutting the money these people earn is not a long-term solution, even though controlling incomes are top priority among many politicians.

A government-run health care system is not what America needs. There are millions of people with private-sector health care jobs, and it is one of the few parts of the economy that is not in free-fall right now. This profession attracts many of the best and brightest Americans, and they are usually well paid. (And well taxed, too!)

Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins are right to question the artificial deadlines for President Obama’s health care takeover. His arbitrary timing calls for legislative approval of his new health care system before the August break, when members of Congress will hear from their constituents. This timing also attempts to force passage before the administration releases it updated economic outlook, which has already been delayed several weeks.

Americans’ health care is an infinitely larger issue than the supplemental spending bills, the federal stimulus package and the energy tax proposals (which were all passed before legislators could read the bills!) It is unconscionable that politicians want to slam through changes to this life-and-death subject like it was any other political issue that can be decided by political horse-trading in the pre-dawn hours.

Americans deserve detailed proposals, thorough discussion, citizen input and thoughtful consideration before even considering government tinkering or takeovers of the health care system.

Martin Sheehan is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center in Portland.

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