Then again, we are talking about Congress, in an election year. Maybe it really is time to start sweating.
While the Fed last week gave a somewhat more optimistic outlook in the near term, with joblessness possibly dipping below 8% by year's end and modestly improved growth in gross domestic product year over year, it's the longer-term prognosis that is clouded with much more uncertainty.
“If no action is taken by fiscal authorities, the size of the fiscal cliff is so large that the Fed would have no ability to offset that effect on the recovery,” Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said.
If that happens, healthcare will certainly feel the pain, meaning providers and patients. No sector will escape unscathed.
And let's not overlook another critical set of what-ifs. As in what if the U.S. Supreme Court does rule against the health reform law, likely derailing many of its laudable objectives, especially provisions to slash the number of uninsured by more than 30 million.
The question has been raised many times: What's in the playbook from lawmakers and the presidential contenders should that happen? How will they address the lack of access, tame the monster of runaway healthcare costs, and somehow not revert to the era of cruel insurance policy rescissions and rejections because of pre-existing conditions?
As the Fed reinforced, we're still in a fragile economic recovery, and no matter who is in the White House next January, that will still be the case for some time. No political spin can change that.
Signs of continuing struggles with healthcare because of unemployment or under-employment are still abundantly clear.
Just one example was a short story published last week on the website NorthJersey.com: “Virtually every weekend around North Jersey, there's a pasta supper or a pancake breakfast to benefit someone overwhelmed by medical bills. Friends and neighbors gather to help toddlers with devastating genetic conditions, teens felled by catastrophic accidents, parents leveled by rare cancers. Some have insurance, some are uninsured. …
“In part, the fundraisers are a natural outgrowth of an American healthcare system that has left nearly 50 million uninsured and another 29 million under-insured, with high copayments and deductibles. …”
That's only one section of one state. Such stories are certainly nothing new, but we need to keep asking: Given what we spend on healthcare in this country, don't we want to do better than that?
David May is assistant managing editor/features of Modern Healthcare.