U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl asserted his views Wednesday at Marquette that the government has a responsibility to provide quality health care at an affordable price to all citizens, and that reform must happen soon.
Speaking as a guest for “On the Issues” with Mike Gousha at the Law School, Kohl (D-Wis.) said good ideas for health care reform are not limited to one party and that legislators must work together.
“We have a responsibility to stop yelling, to stop demonizing, and to sit down and come up with a product that makes sense,” Kohl said.
Although the issue of health care reform is complicated and involves much partisanship in discussions, Kohl said lawmakers must not give up their pursuit of better health care for the nation.
“I think if we walk away now, we might not come back for the next 10 years,” Kohl said.
Ten years from now, Kohl said, government spending on health care would consume more than 20 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product. According to Kohl, government spending on health care currently takes up about 16 percent of the nation’s GDP — the highest percentage out of the world’s 30 most developed countries.
By continuing to allow health care spending to grow, Kohl said the United States would be crippled in its ability to compete economically with other developed nations.
“God only knows how we will deal with the health care issue if we don’t start getting serious about it now and talking to each other in a civilized way,” Kohl said.
In the coming months, Kohl said he thinks both houses will have a debate on health care and hopes legislation will be passed by Christmas at the earliest.
However, Kohl said legislation might not provide dramatic changes, but would rather establish reform incrementally over the next few years.
“Maybe if we could improve 20 percent at a time, we might have what we want in five or six years,” Kohl said.
Kohl also said health care reform is not about expanding the government but rather seeking to find a balanced role for governmental influence on health insurance policy and distribution.
The government should have a role in health care, Kohl said, because insurance companies, hospitals and pharmacy manufacturers are private businesses whose goal is to sell a lot of product and make money.
“Don’t you want somebody overseeing them on (the people’s) behalf when it comes to health care? I think so,” Kohl said.
During the question and answer session of the program, Marquette alumnus Dan Zeidler asked if Kohl would exclude abortion funding from any health care reform bill. Kohl said health care reform should not be used by members of either party to try to provide access to abortion.
Outside Sensenbrenner Hall, a mother stood with her children holding signs that urged Kohl not to vote for a health care bill that includes provisions for abortions.
Dick Tillmar, a health advocate and certified wellness instructor for Diversified Insurance Services in Brookfield, said one of the most bothersome things about U.S. health care is that it has historically only been designed to keep people from getting sick.
Tillmar said he doesn’t know how the government will pay for health care reform since the country has piled up such a tremendous debt.
“It’s very hard to cut the pie up in so many pieces that everybody gets what they think is their due share,” Tillmar said.
University Provost John Pauly said he was impressed with the thoughtfulness of the discussion it’s important to recognize that other world nations may have some better health care policies than the United States.
“In a democracy, we ought to care about one another a little bit more,” Pauly said.