Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Heath Care Mess

The Health Care Mess

by Ted Miller
(originally published August 2017 in Tumbleweird)

When did the American Dream transform from equal opportunity for all to every man for himself?  When did we lose our capacity for compassion, our willingness to take care of each other, our belief that everyone deserves to have their basic needs met?  In this land of plenty, no one should go hungry, no one should be forced to sleep on the streets, and no one should have to suffer because they can’t afford medical care.

The founders of our country believed we were stronger when we worked together for the good of all.  Time and time again we have come together to improve the lives of our fellow citizens. When millions of people were suffering from poverty and hunger, we established a social safety net to protect the most vulnerable.  Through taxpayer funded government programs, we have led the world with advances in science and technology, contributing to a better life for all.  We maintain a military force without rival.  We have built an infrastructure of roads and utilities that has allowed individuals and businesses to prosper. We have provided electricity, clean water, communication systems and transportation across the country and into rural America.  We provide an education for every child. We have continually improved public health through sanitation, food and drug regulation, environmental regulations and basic medical research.

But somehow, basic health care is not something that we guarantee for each other. Instead, we have a byzantine system of employer provided insurance, government programs for the poor and elderly, and individual insurance plans that still leave tens of millions uninsured. We spend significantly more on health care per capita in the United States with no better outcomes than countries that provide health care to everyone. And while the rest of the world has largely adopted universal health care, the United States lags behind in fulfilling this basic need for all its citizens. 

No one should have to worry about cost when they need medical care, yet for millions of Americans how to pay to see a doctor is a struggle with every injury or illness. I have a friend here in the Tri-Cities who, in her fifties, was forced to go without health insurance for six months because she lost her job and could not afford an individual policy that would cost her hundreds of dollars each month in premiums and a seven-thousand-dollar deductible.  She worried every day that she was one accident or illness away from financial disaster, all because she was unemployed through no fault of her own.

Justin Raffa, the Artistic Director of the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, lost his health insurance when he left his full time public teaching position to earn his master’s degree before moving to Richland under contract to the Mastersingers. After four years without health insurance, he was finally able to afford an individual plan. Within a year, at the age of 30, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  The surgery, radiation treatment and numerous tests and procedures added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that his new health insurance covered.  He now faces a lifetime of medication and will always have a “pre-existing condition.” If he had not had insurance, he would be facing a lifetime of debt in addition to his lifetime of medical treatment.  He was lucky, but luck shouldn’t be a factor in whether anyone can afford health care.

We have the means to provide quality medical care to every American, regardless of their income, their employment status, their age, or their medical history. In countries with universal health care, they have better preventive care, lower costs and equal or better outcomes. People with universal coverage focus on maintaining their health without the stress and worry of how to pay for it.

Myths and misinformation about the cost and inefficiencies of universal health care are rampant, but the truth is that universal health care is better for public health, the economy, and the individual. There are a variety of successful universal health care systems around the world.  A single payer government system, a hybrid of private and public insurance, or any number of other programs could be adopted in the United States. The goal should be quality health care for all of our citizens. The debate should be about how best to achieve universal coverage, not how to dismantle the limited progress we have made.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was a big step toward providing access to health care for the uninsured.  Other provisions in the law ensure coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and minimum requirements improved coverage while eliminating junk insurance policies. There are flaws in Obamacare that must be corrected or it will not be sustainable, but simply repealing the law and eliminating coverage for tens of millions is not the answer.  Congress should be working to improve the lives of all our citizens, not playing partisan politics in a misguided effort to gain more power at the expense of so many. 

Health care is as fundamental a need as food, clean water and housing.  No one should suffer because they don’t have access to adequate medical care. Developing a plan that will move the United States towards universal health care is the only moral and ethical choice.