Thursday, September 3, 2009

Here's why we need a change in healthcare

We need a change in our healthcare system. That is not a debatable point. Everyone agrees. So let's set that out there from the get - we need a change. Next, let's look at the different components to the existing system so we can figure out what to change. On second thought, scratch that. We can't. There are too many and I'm not that smart.

So instead let's look at the ones I can think of and have something to say about. I'm nothing if not honest. I know this is a BIG topic and there are alot of strong opinions, emotions, and - yes - some facts that come into play. I'm setting out the stuff that matters most to me and hoping it strikes a chord with some. For others, other issues may be of concern.

That's the nice thing about our country. Lots of us. Lots of opinions. All heard. None shouted down. None diminished in importance because of lack of popularity or AM radio time. It's one of the things that distinguishes us from a socialist society.

Here's what I care about:

This is an economic issue. We have to have a healthy, striving and sustainable economy in order to produce everything we need and enjoy - including healthcare. The problem is the U.S. is competing in a global market on an uneven playing field. Our corporations and our workers are carrying undue burdens related to healthcare costs and inefficiencies.

The United States spends twice as much on health care per capita ($7,129) than any other country . . . and spending continues to increase. In 2005, the national health care expenditures totaled $2 trillion. Source: National Center for Health Statistics (Pesky little facts.)

These problems amount to kicking us in the shin with the blade of an ice skate as we try to run in that global rat race.

In 2006, the percentage of Americans without health insurance was 15.8%, or approximately 47 million uninsured people. Source: US Census Bureau. (That's a fact.) That's more than the last registered population of the entire country of Spain. (That's an estimate, since the numbers I saw ranged from 43 to 45 million.) Can you imagine kicking everyone in Spain in the shin every morning as they got up for work? Big job. Very expensive. Bad for the Spaniards. And after a few days, you'd better believe, some of those folks would be less effective at work.

This is a general welfare issue. Swine flu is going to kill how many people this year? Yet my children's school can only afford to bring a nurse in on a part-time basis. (That is a fact.) Nearly a thousand people incubating in a building with scary-movie-type levels of hand touching, sniffle wiping, cough spreading and related germ spreading activities going on all day. Don't you think that if we had a healthcare system that provided reasonable, accessible care more parents might take their children in for preventive care - or immediate care during the early stages of an illness or injury? (That is an open question.)

Instead, because a large majority of the students in my children's school qualify for free or reduced lunch, one can infer that many of those same families do not have healthcare coverage. We infer this because free or reduced lunches are linked to poverty. Poverty is often linked to under- or un-employment. Private healthcare costs would make it highly unlikely that a person who meets the free or reduced lunch poverty requirements would have sufficient income to cover private healthcare costs.

In fact, the primary reason given for lack of health insurance coverage in 2005 was cost (more than 50%), lost job or a change in employment (24%), Medicaid benefits stopped (10%), ineligibility for family insurance coverage due to age or leaving school (8%). Source: National Center for Health Statistics.

Sadly, this doesn't even account for the families that don't (or won't claim to) qualify for assistance. How do I know? My family is one. I am an educated, articulate, professional person, with a job and a mortgage. I have a reasonably clean home (don't check today, but if you call first...). I speak English. Pretty well. I am a natural-born citizen. But my job does not include healthcare coverage and the costs of buying private insurance would render us incapable of owning a home, despite being a two-working-parent household. So we go without. Say what you want to say about Blago but his healthcare program for children has saved our family.

Frankly, I'm shocked it's taken this long. After all, I'm entitled to general welfare in the constitution. In fact, my non-socialist country is supposed to PROMOTE general welfare. To me, that means encourage, support, provide resources for and allow the welfare to flourish. That's why my government provides for education, fire and police protection, a legal system, public libraries, postal service and so forth. My government, through and by the people, provides for my welfare in all of these ways. How is it that my health is not related to my welfare?

Moreover, we've long overlooked the question of morality as it relates to national healthcare. The United States as a world power and leader in the world falls woefully short in this regard. We still, as tarnished as we are, provide a beacon of light for others to follow.

But from 2000 to 2006, overall inflation in the U.S. increased 3.5%, wages increased 3.8%, and health care premiums increased 87%. Source: Kaiser Family Foundation (Statistics/Facts.)

That is unconscionable. The powers-that-be are well aware that as costs increase in such grotesque disproportion to wages, families fall away from the system. The end result is that we fail to protect more and more people from simple things like common illness, injuries and chronic (but treatable) diseases. Horrid.

Further, our stellar system results in our ranking as 43rd in lowest infant mortality rate, down from 12th in 1960 and 21st in 1990. We're getting worse and not better? Given our improvements in education and technology, that's not very American or very moral, is it? It means we're using our know-how and tools, but not to protect even the tiniest of American lives? What kind of example does that set? What does that teach the children who make it past that first year?

Some of the other 42 nations that have a lower infant mortality rate than the US include Hong Kong, Slovenia, and Cuba. Source: CIA Factbook (2008) So, Slovenia, huh? They can teach us a thing or two, I guess. (That is sarcasm.)

What's more? For as many people who come here seeking our oustanding care, there are people who leave the United States not because the healthcare is not good, but because it is inaccessible. A friend from work travels to Colombia every year, leaving her job and husband behind for a month, to take her developmentally disabled daughter to an intensive therapy camp that would be available to her here, but is too expensive for her parents to afford and isn't covered by their plan. It's free in Colombia because the woman holds dual citizenship.

I have another friend whose son is autistic. She's been fighting with her local school district for help covering astronomical (tens of thousands of dollars) costs for a therapy that's helping her son to talk and communicate, because the school can't provide it and won't help her pay for it. If she can't get her son the help he needs, he'll be always dependent on his little brother. Both lives, as well as those of the parents, forever tormented. Is that moral? Is it necessary in the richest country on earth?

My own mother is reduced to living quietly the most modest of lives because she is tied to her employer's disability plan which stipulates that she can't be found doing anything remotely identifiable as 'liesure' because that would mean she wasn't disabled. We've begged her to go on the tiniest vacations with us - even to Wisconsin for a day - but she won't because she's terrified of losing her coverage and having to depend on us to help with her expenses. After all the life she's lived, she deserves better, and I am heartbroken every day that I can't provide it for her. It is immoral to allow her to live out her remaining days in this state, at the hands of a country that she has always loved, served and cared for so diligently. It is immoral because we can do better.

Taking care of our citizenry, however, is not a step toward socialism. Ever heard of Medicare? Seen a VA Hospital? In fact, a revamp of our healthcare policies will be a life-saving step toward reviving the capitalist system, allowing us to shake off the burdens of an overly expensive and ineffective system that does not keep our people in good health and precludes us from greater success in the world. Plus - look what the debate has already done to reinvigorate the democratic process!

As for the woes of the private sector as it contemplates the prospect of competing against the government, puhleeze. The government competes with private sector all the time. You can't have it both ways - either the quality will be awesome which will force the private sector to up its game, or the quality will be lacking and it will give the private sector everything it needs to succeed. There are examples of this everywhere in our every day lives. Have you ever used FedEx instead of the post office? Have you ever gone to Border's instead of the library? Ever seen a security guard at a mall instead of local police officer? Ever gone into a public school instead of hiring a private tutor? Gotten on a bus or train instead of in your private car? The government can provide an alternative and you can choose it or choose something else. That's the definition of friggin capitalism, NOT socialism.

A healthcare system that would have private, corporate and government options and would include competitive prices, a broader marketplace and a wider distribution of services is NOT socialist. We are not going to start wearing fatigues and combat boots if we can go to a local healthcare provider the same as we'd go to our local police station or our local library or our local state rep's office. Stop acting like the President of the United States is in cahoots with some radical underground socialist movement trying to make us all die slow deaths in line for treatment at some dingy clinic where the doctors all have hippie beards and smoke weed while they stroke our chests with feathers. It's ridiculous and beneath us as intelligent people discussing a critical issue in our country.

The fact is (ok, ok, my opinion is) the President and all self-aware and self-preserving policy makers are responding to a desperate need in our country that, when addressed, will lift an anvil off our shoulders and free us to be more competitive, healthier, more globally responsible, moral, capitalist pigs.

Amen and applie pie to that, my friends.

1 comment:

  1. Righteous rant. One tiny quibble: "The government can provide an alternative and you can choose it or choose something else. That's the definition of friggin capitalism, NOT socialism." Actually, it's the definition of social democracy, which is a sort of socialism-light that exists within a capitalist framework (and which is pretty much the norm throughout Europe, along with Japan). But don't take that as a criticism of the rest of your post, because it's about time we got on the social democracy train instead of deluding ourselves that the almighty Invisible Hand will take care of everything if we just cut taxes enough.