Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Health Care – Right or Responsibility?

Astrid Helena Germain 1951 - 2007
My best friend died in November. She died, in this 21st century, from an infection! She died at age 56 because she could not afford health insurance due to an unrelated pre-existing condition, so she waited to go to the hospital until it was too late. My friend’s inability to afford health insurance might be your story, and if it's not, then it might be the story of someone you know and care about. An election looms ahead that has become almost a comedy of ridiculous name-calling, while important issues like health care exist that affect our lives every day.
The September 2008 Kaiser Family Foundation election tracking poll puts health care as the number three priority of all voters, and it remains the second most commonly reported economic hardship (after paying for gas). Almost fifty million people are without health insurance, and at least that many are under-insured, while revenues going into the industry continue to increase at double digit rates year after year. According to the World Health Organization, although the United States now spends $2.3 trillion a year on health care (twice as much per capita on health care as any other country,) it ranks 37th in terms of health system performance and 72nd in overall population health. The U.S. is the only industrial nation without health care for all.
The private payers of health care have an overhead of between 20% and 30% as compared to Medicare’s 3%. The difference between the two is in the presence of or lack of bureaucracy within the drug companies, insurance companies, and other powerful and well-funded special interests which make billions of dollars off of human illness. Simply stated, we need to move toward a national health care program that guarantees health care to all as a right, not a privilege. When we do that, and end the greed and profiteering in the current system, we can provide quality care for all Americans without spending a nickel more than we currently spend.
The Republican nominee has proposed to tax the health benefits that 156 million people get through the workplace as income. In exchange, McCain would give tax credits to help pay for insurance — $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families, paid directly to the insurer they choose. What McCain fails to state is that our country under its current system already spends $12,500 per individual on health care. His plan could lead employers to drop their current plans that could not be replaced for $5,000. McCain's plan would also increase the deficit by $1.3 trillion over 10 years. He also intends to make cuts in Medicare, which is not good news for our seniors.
The Democratic nominee will make coverage more affordable to most Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, paying for the subsidies largely by canceling the Bush administration's tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year. He would outlaw "insurance company discrimination” against people with pre-existing conditions, and he would save money in the health care system, by holding drug and insurance companies accountable for the prices they charge and the harm they cause. Medicare would be allowed to negotiate with drug makers for cheaper prices, and his administration would place greater emphasis on preventing illnesses.
Barack Obama has a plan to stop the marginalization of that 15% of our population who are currently not considered valuable enough to be helped when they are hurting. He has a plan that will save money. I am an Obama supporter. I hope you will be, too, but if you're not, the fact that 22,000 people died last year because of a lack of health care, including my friend, should at least encourage you to compare the plans available.


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