AARP may be best known for protecting the best interests of retired Americans. But metro-area residents ought to be glad the senior-centric organization has taken on the task of telling America's leaders that it's time to save the nation and its citizens from the ruinous rising cost of health care.

The crisis is not just a financial storm, although money is part of the problem. U.S. health-care costs are increasing annually by an average of 10 percent - or five times the rate of personal income growth. This means more and more people, including those who are employed, are unable to afford health-care insurance and therefore also are unlikely to be able to pay for health-care services on their own.

Lack of leadership's a problem

In Oregon, one out of six people does not have health-care insurance. In fact, this state has one of the nation's fastest growth rates for the uninsured. Yet, Oregon is not alone in these troubles. National studies indicate that many Americans have incurred or face extraordinary debt or bankruptcy due to illness, injury or the loss of health-care benefits following a job change.

As a result, concern over health-care affordability and availability ranks near the top of almost every public opinion survey. And yet significant solutions to this crisis enacted by the Oregon Legislature, Congress or the health-care industry remain elusive.

Why? We think the problem is about leadership and an inability to address this monumental mess with agreement on incremental solutions that build initial results and momentum for greater change and overall improvement.

That's why we strongly support AARP's 'Divided We Fail' national campaign, which came to Oregon late last week to stress the importance of Republicans and Democrats across the nation working together to improve health-care affordability and availability.

The Divided We Fail campaign is not about more talk or more study - we've had enough of that. It is about change, and it is about impatience from a public that is tired of inaction from elected leaders. It's also about requiring that political parties and unique partners work together. As such, we think that this campaign is a different approach that can prompt significant improvements in the health-care crisis.

People must work together

Oregon has a leg up on this effort. U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Gordon Smith, a Republican, have shown how two people can work together and agree on solutions regardless of their political party registration. And Wyden already is an advocate for national health-care reform.

In Salem, Republicans and Democrats have worked together on the matter. Now, AARP is bringing together labor and the business community. What is missing? Consistent results that build change.

So what can individual Oregonians do? They can join AARP's campaign by logging onto and by pledging to vote only for candidates who commit to support policies and programs that improve citizens' access to affordable health care.

The health-care crisis won't be fully addressed overnight.

But AARP and its partners are correct to demand action that begins immediately to address health-care reform. Without a commitment to work urgently in partnership on this issue, our state and nation's elected leaders' divisive differences will certainly place all of us in greater financial and health-care peril.

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