Daily News editorial

Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

America's health care system is a mess. On that, most agree.

Americans pay more than those in other countries and, increasingly, get less for their money.

Yet, a disconnect seems to exist between those living in the country and those governing — or wanting to govern (as in political candidates) — it in regard to the specific problems.

Politicians, as evidenced by the presidential campaigns of nearly two dozen Democrats seeking their party's nomination, are focused on access to health care.

The public, however, seems far more concerned about the cost of health care and health insurance. Government surveys show that access isn't an overwhelming problem for most.

The Associated Press reports that recent government surveys show about 90 percent of the population has coverage. And of the remaining 10 percent — roughly 30 million people — who don't have coverage, about half are eligible for insurance but opt not to obtain coverage. Why? The cost.

Lack of coverage was a growing problem in 2010 when Democrats under President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but now most folks have insurance though they often struggle to pay premiums as well as copays and deductibles.

"We need to have a debate about coverage and cost, and we have seen less focus on cost than we have on coverage," said candidate Michael Bennet, a senator from Colorado. "The cost issue is a huge issue for the country and for families." The bulk of the Democratic field, as well as many in Congress, are pushing for a government-run insurance option, universal coverage or Medicare of All.

Those options might well prove to be the best way to reduce costs for the public. Then again, it might be better to tweak the Affordable Care Act to focus more on reducing costs.

This is an extremely complex issue. It doesn't easily boil down to simple slogans that play well on the campaign trail and likely why the focus on cost gets short shrift on the stump.

"When you have 90 percent of the American people covered and they are drowning in their health care bills, what they want to hear from politicians are plans that will address their health care costs, more than plans that will cover the remaining 10 percent," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks the health care system. "When Democrats talk about universal coverage more than health care costs, they are playing to the dreams of activists and progressives ... much less to the actual concerns of the 90 percent who have coverage today."

That's something that politicians — Democrats as well as Republicans — should keep in mind as they craft their proposals. Americans have access to health care and health insurance, but it's the cost that is the true barrier to insurance coverage and medical care.

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