Providing affordable coverage for the millions of people without health insurance is a key to helping the nation compete in the world economy, according to U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Scranton.
Casey and several noted professionals who addressed the nation's health care crisis during a teleconference Wednesday with newspaper reporters said the number of uninsured in the nation as well as Pennsylvania has reached crisis proportions.
"I think most people understand that health care is the economy," he said.
Casey said President Obama is on the right track in addressing the problem, and with bipartisan support it can be fixed.
He said many people finally are coming to the realization that the high numbers of uninsured have put a severe crunch on businesses as well as individuals.
Quoting 2007 Census figures, Casey said 45.7 million people were without health insurance, including 2.8 million people under age 65 in Pennsylvania.
But the figures do not include the 86.6 million people nationwide who were uninsured during at least part of the past two years.
Everyone, he said, knows a family member or friend without insurance.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which focuses on affordable health care, echoed many of the Senator's comments, further pointing out that while whites comprise the largest number of the state's uninsured, Hispanics and blacks are more likely to be uninsured.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Media, said with many people unable to buy insurance, the economy is losing hundreds of billions of dollars due to employee sickness and absenteeism.
"We need healthy, productive workers to be competitive," he said.
Pollock said large businesses simply cannot compete in the world marketplace due to high insurance costs.
"The long-term fiscal problems confronting the country are predominantly an issue of health care costs," he said. "It is essential that we start now to do health care reform."
Laval Miller-Wilson, executive director, Pennsylvania Health Law Project, an organization helping helping low-income disabled residents get access to health care, said private insurers must be part of the solution.
He noted the costs of caring for the uninsured are adding an average of $900 to every family policy and $300 to every individual policy.
"The unhealthy are costing us," he said. "So insurance companies are paying already."
Not beginning to address this issue will only harm the nation's economic future.
He said hospitals and doctors must address the health care crisis in part by taking more preventive medicine.
As an example, he noted that many hospital infections could be stopped through proper prevention.
"You can't have long-term economic growth without fixing this," Casey said. "We shouldn't let the challenge of this stop us."