Healthcare reform has nation divided

June 25, 2009 8:05:57 AM PDT
It's a clear priority for President Barack Obama and a shot in the arm for America's health care system. From doctors and patients to politicians and Houstonians, the president's plan for reform has people divided. [WATCH IT: Houstonians on President Obama's healthcare plan]

President Obama met with governors in Washington Wednesday, hoping to gain support for his proposal. He will also answer questions live in an ABC News Primetime Special Wednesday night.

At Eyewitness News, we've talked to people on both sides of the debate to fairly represent the issue.

Both leaders at the Texas Medical Center we spoke with said doing nothing may be the worst idea.

Those inside the health care system told us there is a recognition that the uninsured, more than a million in Harris County, are threatening to break the system.

Houston's medical center is so busy, so crowded, and so much coming and going that it seems the place never slows down long enough to consider what is happening with healthcare in our city.

"The current model is just not sustainable," said Dr. Lewis Foxhall, President of the Harris County Medical Society.

The most recent study shows 31% of Harris County residents are uninsured with no way to pay for their own healthcare.

"If this demand keeps growing, you can't have enough beds to take care of the people who need care," said David Lopez of the Harris County Hospital District.

The reform plans now churning through Congress are all predicted to cost more than $1 trillion, that's with 12 zeros.

The costs are astronomical, so how do each of us have to pay our part?

Among the ideas are rewarding doctors to keep you healthy. That shift would drop costs.

"We have to get away from the sickness-oriented mindset," said Lopez.

On top of that, what if you, the patient, had to stay healthy or pay bigger premiums? If you smoke, you pay more. If you're obese and not dieting, you pay more. If you have cardiac illness and don't exercise, you pay more.

"Financial incentives do work," said Lopez.

If you have good insurance now, the president isn't insisting you change it but the coverage for the uninsured could be limited.

If you don't have insurance, the plan you may get may not entitle to everything.

"If someone comes in with a certain diagnosis, this is what we do in a given situation," said Lopez.

Again it's about controlling costs, but to get at big money, hundreds of millions of dollars, cutting the money feds award in Medicare and Medicaid is an option. As is raising your taxes.

"It's difficult how we would pay for that without raising taxes," said Dr. Foxhall.

Either cutting tax deductions for the rich or taxing the health benefits you get from your job.

For the average Houston family, that could increase your tax bill $3,000 a year. And there's still the question of who would insure the uninsured. Private insurers could come up with a low cost cooperative, but President Obama prefers a government plan.

In a sense, it's the Wal-Mart option: Lots of customers, cutting costs but not offering luxuries.

Critics say the problem here is that just like Wal-Mart's ability to force competitors out of business, a government-run insurance plan could be get so big it would force private insurers out of our Medical Center.

"There's a worry that the private health insurance system would go away. It could be too expensive or it just couldn't compete," said Dr. Foxhall.

One of the greatest frustrations among people we asked to help us understand what your options might be going forward is that few specifics are available and President Obama continues to insist on a bill this year.

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