An Important Issue:

Universal Health Care

The following article by Deborah was printed in The Montgomery Democrat:

                       Universal Health Care:  The Time Has Come!

By Deborah A. Vollmer
Now that the Democrats are in the majority in the Senate, we have a unique opportunity to work toward real reform of the health care system. But while the debate focuses on such issues as the Patient's Bill of Rights, and expanding Medicare to include prescription drugs, we should not lose sight of the larger problem of the 44 million or so Americans who are uninsured. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not have some form of universal health care. Many of the uninsured in this country belong to the ranks of the working poor. Many of these workers have long schedules sometimes consisting of two or more part-time jobs, none of which come with health care insurance. And coverage is too expensive for low-income workers to pay for on their own. The lack of insurance often causes these Americans to do without -- until a health care crisis drives the person to the hospital emergency room. By then, a once treatable problem may have become a life-threatening condition. Treatment then becomes complicated, painful, and expensive to society as a whole, which must pay for the costs of treatment for the critically ill uninsured in the form of increased insurance premiums. Universal health care is not only a humane approach from the standpoint of the patient; it is actually cost-effective for society as a whole. Not only does it fall upon society to care for the critically ill uninsured. Society suffers in other ways from the fact that so many are uninsured: high rates of absenteeism among the uninsured in the workforce, and potential difficulty treating and controlling infectious diseases, for example. The Board of the Woman's National Democratic Club has recently adopted a statement of principle which includes a declaration that health care is a human right, and calls for universal health care. "All Americans" the statement reads "should be provided with comprehensive, high-quality health care with a choice of health care providers." It is time that we address the issue of the uninsured. Incremental steps toward reforming the health care system can take us only so far. Bold, sweeping reform is in order. Although a number of approaches have been proposed, my own preference is for HR 1200, which is introduced every session by U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wash). The McDermott bill provides for universal single-payer health care which is publicly financed. Under the McDermott approach, individuals have comprehensive coverage with a choice of doctors. The system is publicly financed in a manner similar to our current Medicare and Medicaid systems, the difference being that no one is left out; every American is covered. Financing is provided through a combination of sources, including an individual tax of a little over 2%, employer taxes, and perhaps a tobacco tax. Individuals would generally pay much less under this system than they now pay in premiums to health insurance companies. And they would get more for their money. Universal, single payer health care is an idea whose time has come. We should let our leaders in the now Democratic-controlled Senate know that we want them to work to make this a reality. And we should work toward electing a new Congress in 2002, controlled by progressive Democrats who will make universal health care a priority.

Universal Health Care
Deborah A. Vollmer

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not have some form of universal health care. Over 44 million Americans are without health care coverage. Many of these are among the ranks of the working poor. Not all employers provide health care coverage. Many workers today have full time work schedules consisting of two or more part-time jobs. The employer doesn't pay for coverage, and the worker cannot afford coverage for him/herself and his or her family.

The lack of a national, comprehensive, universal, health care system in this country creates an injustice for the uninsured themselves. It also creates a problem for the rest of us. Many go without health care, until a crisis drives them to the hospital emergency room. Sometimes a medical problem, which would have been treatable if addressed early, becomes a life-threatening illness. The uninsured sick person suffers the most in this situation. But we are all affected. Someone has to pay for that belated emergency room visit, and since the hospital cannot collect from the uninsured, the cost of treatment is shifted to the rest of us. It also falls to society as a whole, in some way to care for the critically ill uninsured. The costs to society may be indirect, but they are real. And despite fantastic strides in medicine, we are not entirely free from the threat of infectious diseases. The infected uninsured suffer, and may become sources for the spread of infectious disease to the general population. Contagious disease spreads without regard to whether infected individuals are covered by health care insurance.

The root cause of the problem is the greed of the health insurance industry. For years, these companies have maximized profits by insuring only the healthy and dropping the sick from coverage. Profit, not the public good, has been the engine motivating these corporate giants. Unlike Medicare, which is much like a universal single-payer system for the elderly and disabled, the private health insurance system which dominates health care in this country has enormous overhead, due to such factors as excessive CEO salaries, and enormous advertising costs.

Bold, sweeping reform is in order. Over the years, Senator Paul Wellstone, (D-Minn.), and U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) have been among a few members of Congress who have championed the cause of universal health care. Over the years, two approaches have emerged: a national, universal, comprehesive system of universal health care (the McDermott approach), and a system in which the Federal government provides incentives for States to take the initiative in providing universal health care. Although I prefer the McDermott approach, I believe both approaches are worthy of consideration.

Representative McDermott introduces his program for universal health care every session, in the form of a bill, HR 1200. The McDermott approach to universal, single-payer health care is modeled after the Canadian system. Canada has had some problems recently with its health care system, but the problems relate not to the concept, or even to the implementation, but to the fact that some Canadian politicians are reluctant to adequately fund this excellent system. The McDermott approach incorporates what is best about the Canadian system to tailor a uniquely American system. Single payer is not "socialized medicine". Most doctors work, not for the government, but rather for themselves, or if they choose, in association with other doctors. The health care delivery system remains primarily within the private sector. With the single-payer approach, doctors don't work for the insurance companies or the govenment; they work for the patient.

Under a single-payer health care system, consumers have a choice of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers. Payment for the medical services would be through the government at the State level, with Federal funding. The approach is similar to that of Medicare. Indeed, although many people don't realize this, the framers of the original Medicare system had the intent to expand it, in increments, to cover the entire population -- leading to what would be in essence a single-payer system. Thus, a single-payer health care system encompasses a primarily private health care delivery system combined with public financing.

The McDermott plan provides for financing from several sources including an indivdual tax of a little over 2%, and employer taxes. It must be kept in mind that, under the current system, individuals and/or their employers pay for health care in health insurance premiums, and that this money goes to pay for monstrous CEO salaries and excessive advertising costs. A Medicare-style system, which is close to a single-payer model, is very cost-effective by comparison. The average American would pay much less in taxes than is now spent on health insurance premiums, and will get more for his or her money.

Universal health care is an idea whose time has come. Basic health care should be considered a right, not just a privilege for the wealthy. It is outrageous that people living in the wealthiest country on Earth must suffer and die because they have no health care insurance.

There is a reason for the fact that to date, it has been only a minority of the members of Congress who have championed the cause of single-payer health care. The health care industry is known for contributing to the funding of political campaigns through political action committees. Thus, any candidate for the House or Senate who supports single-payer health care potentially forfeits a major source of campaign funding.

Single-payer health care is an idea whose time has come. But it will take a good deal of political courage on the part of members of Congress, and on the part of those who may wish to become members of Congress, to make it a reality.

The Montgomery Democrat has published an article by Deborah in their April, 2002 edition. Click here to go to: A Step Towards Universal Health Care

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