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Letter: Need for health care system reform's urgent, he says

TO THE EDITOR: Two recent news items have once more underscored the urgent need for comprehensive reform of our health care system.

First, the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report that health care spending in the U.S. in 2009 reached 17 percent of the entire economy, at $2.5 trillion. That's the largest single-year growth since record-keeping began in 1960. Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution predicts that, at the present rate, if unchecked, health care spending will consume up to 25 percent of the U.S. economy within a few years.

More widely publicized was Anthem Blue Cross¹s announcement that it would raise insurance rates as much as 39 percent for 800,000 Californians starting March 1. The Obama administration has rightly asked Anthem Blue Cross' parent company, WellPoint, for an explanation. WellPoint, after all, made $4.7 billion in profits last year, with the corporation's top five executives taking home over $20 million in compensation in 2008.

As congressional Republicans attempt to block health care reform, the health insurance industry appears to be making a last grab for outsize profits before increased regulation can limit its ability to fleece the consumer.

Not inaccurately, Anthem Blue Cross also blames the weak economy. As more customers drop their increasingly unaffordable policies, says Anthem, "This leaves fewer people, often with significantly greater medical needs, in the insured pool."

It's easy to see why such a broken system is doomed to hit the wall, sooner rather than later, if Congress lets itself be cowed into inaction by obstructionists who have said they want the President to fail.

Among more positive developments, state legislatures in Pennsylvania, California and Minnesota are drafting single-payer or Medicare-for-all types of legislation, in response to the stalemate in Washington.

Wisconsin state senators and representatives, please pay attention.