Tuesday, 06 February 2007
A Question of Healthcare – Part 2
[EDITOR'S NOTE: A new story about the other important book Betty Friedan wrote has been posted at BlogHer today.]
When I got sick when I was a little girl and if my mother thought I was too ill to travel or it appeared I had something contagious like chickenpox, the doctor came to our house. When I needed immunization boosters or a routine visit with the pediatrician, we went to the doctor’s office.
At the end of the visit at home or the office, my mother paid the doctor in cash or by check. Credit cards did not exist in the late 1940s (or were barely known) and employers did not widely offer health insurance as a benefit yet.
Medical needs were generally affordable. Doctors, even in cities, did not drive Mercedes and they often reduced their fee or did not charge at all when they knew a family’s budget was stretched thin.
Life is not so simple anymore. Healthcare has become more sophisticated and complex involving million-dollar machines and procedures. Physicians have been divided up into specialists so that the person we see for an ailment is often a stranger. And healthcare has become big business operated from the top down by the insurance industry and giant HMOs.
Aside from the insurance industry which reaps billions of dollars in annual profits, no one is happy with healthcare we have, and there is no doubt that the system in the U.S. is at crisis level, ready to implode.
Yesterday, we covered some of the myths of American healthcare. Contrary to what our leaders repeat to us, our system is just about the least effective among nations in the developed world and costs twice as much as other governments spend.
So far among announced presidential candidates, only John Edwards has laid out a definitive healthcare plan. His would cover everyone by 2012 and to pay for it, he would abolish the tax cuts President Bush rammed through for people who earn more than $200,000 a year.
The plan would require that all employers cover every worker or contribute six percent of each worker’s salary toward coverage the worker would then purchase. Government-funded insurance would be supplied to low-income adults and children.
The difficulty I see with this plan is that is leaves most insurance still in the hands of employers which was a poor idea when it was first introduced in the 1940s. Additionally and more important, it is not a single-payer system. The for-profit insurance companies remain in control extracting billions of dollars for themselves that would otherwise go to healthcare.
Senator Hillary Clinton has a history with healthcare, having chaired a committee to develop a new system in 1993 and 1994 when she was first lady. But do not think that was a single-payer plan anymore than John Edwards' is today. When Senator Clinton was in Iowa recently,
“One voter asked her bluntly what happened when she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, tried to expand coverage in 1993-1994 and what she intended to do now to reach that goal.
"’It's a fair question,’ Clinton replied, ‘because everybody who cares about this issue - which is nearly everybody in the country - knows that we tried very hard in '93-'94 and we could not put together the political consensus that we needed to make changes.'
“What followed was a 10-minute explanation of why the Clintons had failed then, how the problem has grown worse in the subsequent years and why she is not ready to outline in any detail her plan for the future. (‘I'm not ready to be specific until I hear from people,’ she said.)”
- - Washington Post, 29 January 2007
There is no reason to hear from “people,” whoever she may be referring to. And, there are literally dozens of single-payer plans gathering dust on shelves of public policy organizations around the U.S. Pick one.
Many polls show that a majority of Americans want a single-payer system and there is already a decent plan that was re-introduced in Congress in January by its original 2005 author, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. The bill, named HR676, The National Health Insurance Act, which now has 78 additional sponsors, would expand Medicare to cover every American.
On the other side of the Capitol, at least two senators, Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank – both of Massachusetts – are on record supporting an expanded Medicare system. A virtue of expanding Medicare to everyone is that the bureaucracy is already in place, the kinks have long been worked out and it needs only to be enlarged while keeping tried and true procedures in place.
A difficulty in getting this or any such bill through either house of Congress is the huge donations insurance companies lavish on the campaigns of candidates for national office – a giveaway that voters cannot possibly match. So unless we all speak up and do so loudly and repeatedly, even the dissatisfaction of a majority of Americans can be drowned out by corporate money. Keep that in mind as this long, presidential campaign continues for two years.
No healthcare plan is perfect, but Medicare works quite well for elder Americans and a single-payer system works just as effectively for all citizens of every other developed nation in the world. Without hundreds of insurance companies and managed care behemoths controlling who gets what care, costs can be controlled; everyone would be covered; doctors, nurses and hospitals would be relieved of excessive paperwork to do the work they trained for, for so long.
Even so, many people oppose this bill and single-payer systems altogether. Certainly the insurance companies do and a large body of conservative voters oppose universal healthcare with that old bugaboo, “socialized medicine” - which is not what this is, so don't let the phrase scare you.
So – as CNN’s Jack Cafferty says every day, here’s the question [if you have some alternative ideas, please leave them in the comments section. Americans need all the help we can get on this issue]: