By Elizabeth Burke
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report
A few weeks ago, I came down with a terrible cold. I suffered through it for about a week while it settled into my lungs and stayed there. When it had not gotten any better at the start of the second week, my friends started telling me to “go to the doctor.” This is a phrase we have heard all our lives and recently, with the Swine Flu outbreak, we are hearing this advice on a daily basis. Mayor Bloomberg has even told us to go to the doctor if you have flulike symptoms. Easy to say but hard to do if you have no health insurance and have no doctor — like me. But I do have a Duane Reade near my home with an inhouse walk in clinic, and that has turned into my quasi-doctor’s office. So off I went to get diagnosed — with bronchitis — and then sent home with a prescription for a strong antibiotic. Cured for under $100!
But what would I have done if Duane Reade didn’t have these in-house offices? Left unchecked, compounded with my existing asthma, this infection could have put me in the emergency room unable to breathe. I know this because it has happened to me before. So first, a big Thank You to Duane Reade for creating such an invaluable service for those of us who are uninsured.
Last year, the Census Bureau estimated that about 46 million Americans and approximately eight million children lack health insurance. It is also estimated that because of the current economic crisis an additional four million people have lost their health coverage. That means our nation is pushing nearly 50 million uninsured.
And it is not news in the least that healthcare premiums have spiraled out of control. I am self-employed, going from contract to contract, project to project, actively hustling for every job I can get. I do this so I can have the freedom to pursue more creative endeavors that keep my mental health in check. I understand that many people will think I am being irresponsible and that I am making choices that hurt my chances to get a “real” job with full benefits. Ah, the American Dream, right? But I am already living my dream, albeit with no safety net below me. I do not agree that I am not worthy of affordable, practical healthcare simply because I am self-employed.
Of course I have looked into purchasing my own insurance. Cue, hold for laughter. I filled out an online query through an arts organization I belong to and what an eye-opener that was. Researching costs to buy a basic plan from a major provider, I found the costs were insane. And I do mean actually insane: for the most minimal coverage for a super-healthy person, you pay about $400 a month; you are also responsible for the first $5,000-$10000 in out-of-pocket expenses before the insurer picks up the tab. Where do these insurance companies come up with these numbers? In terms of sheer cost analysis, it would actually behoove me to contract an awful disease, get hit by a bus, or have a terribly expensive medical procedure performed in order to justify those premiums. Being relatively healthy, I cannot afford to get health insurance! That’s the bottom line! At the same time, private health insurers make huge profits, and several insurance firms have provided their top executives annual compensation packages exceeding $20 million (read the first paragraph of this link).
While these executives are dining on gold plated dishware courtesy of cash-strapped policy holders, it has been reported that state-by-state health coverage trends are rapidly declining. The report finds that over the last 15 years, nearly every state has seen increased numbers of uninsured residents, greater costs for workers (while their incomes remain flat), and significant erosion of private coverage overall. Private health insurance companies cannot and will not reform themselves, no matter what they might say when forced into a room by President Obama. Pharmaceutical companies fall into the same category — they refuse to rein in the costs of basic medications. (Thank God for Canada!)There is a dictatorship of health in this country and it is killing us. Or it will kill us. Or it will kill someone you know.
The system is broken, yes. But no, I’m not hopeful it can be fixed.
Why doesn’t the U.S. have universal healthcare as a right of citizenship? The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not. The Obama Administration made healthcare one of its cornerstones and now the President has announced three bedrock requirements for real healthcare reform: reduce costs, guarantee choice and ensure affordable care for all. This is not the Socialist plan the conservative mouthpieces are screaming about. No one is talking about giving away healthcare to the great unwashed. Without true reform of a clearly busted system, fewer and fewer people will be able to keep up with the rising costs. That means more and more people will be using emergency rooms like doctor’s offices, not getting preventative treatment, not having their illnesses treated, not filling necessary prescriptions, not receiving dental visits. Just picture all those cancers going undiagnosed and, well, you get the picture.
Ironically, while fighting brain cancer, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) is championing a universal healthcare bill that will guarantee each American access to the same type of care that he and every Republican in Congress receive at an affordable cost.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has pledged to bring the legislation to the House floor by July, an ambitious goal when you consider how hard it is to get anything done in DC with so much animosity flowing. Not to mention the complexity of the nation’s healthcare system and the wide array of views on how an overhaul should work. Speaker Pelosi said she wants the debate to begin before the Congressional recess in August. However it happens, it needs to happen this year. More untreated, undiagnosed illness and more deaths will follow if Republican throw the kitchen sink at universal healthcare, and you know they will.
During a recent news conference, President Obama said, “The problems in our healthcare system didn’t emerge over night, we’ve debated what to do about them for decades, but too often efforts at comprehensive reform have fallen apart due to special-interest lobbying and petty politics and the failure of all sides to come together. What’s been so encouraging this week is that you’ve started to see a shift in these patterns.” I hope and pray that there is indeed a shift. A shift in the way we treat each other and a shift in the way we view healthcare. Good health isn’t a privilege, like getting your driver’s license. Good health is your right as a human being. When a despicable company like Blue Cross decides to divert millions of dollars (paid for by policy holders) to fight healthcare legislation instead of putting that money back into patient care, I have to believe they are the most evil corporation in existence.
In fact, Blue Cross and other insurers are gearing up to create an advertising campaign targeting the public health insurance option in the proposed legislation. The public health insurance option is a key provision in Obama’s plan to help cover everyone-including the 50 million people who the Republicans would prefer dead, if need be, before they are insured. Under Obama’s plan we would finally give everyone the choice between keeping our current insurance or switching to a new, high-quality public plan. Oh, and by the way: Under a public health insurance plan, your premiums wouldn’t subsidize CEO salaries or stockholder profits — or misleading attack ads — so everyone would save on health care premiums and costs.
I’m not asking to become a ward of the state. I don’t want a handout, just a hand up. I am willing to pay a reasonable amount to keep myself healthy and thus to keep being a productive taxpayer and all around swell gal. But with bought-and-paid-for politicians and the insurance lobby telling me to all but drop dread, I am truly afraid this bill will be DOA long before July. I just want to ask these well-padded, well-taken-care-of legislators one question: Why? Why don’t you care? Do you have any family members who can’t afford insurance? Have you ever been uninsured? I doubt it. I worry every day I don’t discover a lump in my breast, a cough that won’t go away, or an errant city bus careening into me on a New York City street. If that happens, I will die and I will die because of you. If I get cancer and have no insurance, I will die. If I get any disease or life-threatening injury while uninsured, there will be no treatments, no chemo, no surgeries and I will probably die. Do you see a pattern here? Well, at least it will leave one less uninsured loser to worry about.