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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/30/09

Medicare for All: Yes We Can

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Message Holly Sklar
More Americans die of lack of health insurance than terrorism, homicide, drunk driving and HIV combined.

Grandma could be dead from lack of health insurance before she turns 65 and gets Medicare - 80 percent of first-time grandparents are in their 40s and 50s.

America is the only country that rations the right to health care to those 65 and older.

Lack of health insurance kills 45,000 American adults a year, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. One out of three Americans under age 65 had no private or public health insurance for some or all of 2007-2008.

You can't go the emergency room for the screening that will catch cancer or heart disease early, or ongoing treatment to manage diabetes or asthma. And even emergency care is different for the insured and uninsured. Studies show uninsured car crash victims receive less care in the hospital, for example.

Even with health insurance, many Americans are a medical crisis away from bankruptcy. Research shows 62 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical, a share up 50 percent since 2001. Most of the medically bankrupt had health insurance - the kind insuring profits, not health care.

Health insurance executives don't worry about going bankrupt from getting sick. Forbes reports that CIGNA's CEO made $121 million in the last five years and Humana's CEO made $57 million.

We're harmed by health industry and political leaders following the Hypocritic Oath: Promise a lot, and deliver as little as possible.

Wendell Potter, CIGNA's chief of corporate communications until quitting in 2008, testified to Congress, "The status quo for most Americans is that health insurance bureaucrats stand between them and their doctors right now, and maximizing profit is the mandate." He said, "Every time you hear about the shortcomings of what they call 'government-run' health care, remember this: what we have now ... and what the insurers are determined to keep in place, is Wall Street-run health care."

Premiums for employer-sponsored family health insurance jumped 131 percent between 1999 and 2009 - from $5,791 to $13,375 - hurting businesses, employees and families.

Contrary to myth, the United States does not have the world's best health care. We're No. 1 in health care spending, but No. 50 in life expectancy, just before Albania, according to the CIA World Factbook. In Japan, people live four years longer than Americans. Canadians live three years longer. Forty-three countries have better infant mortality rates.

One or two health insurance companies dominate most metropolitan areas in the United States.

Health industry lobbyists and campaign contributors have gotten between you and your congressperson so they can keep getting between you and your doctor. There are 3,098 health sector lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill - nearly six for every member of Congress.

As Business Week put it in August, "Health insurers are winning." They "have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable."

President Obama should listen to his doctor. Dr. David Scheiner was Obama's doctor for 22 years in Chicago. On the July 30 anniversary of Medicare, Scheiner said, "I have never encountered an instance where Medicare has prevented proper medical care ... Insurance companies frequently interfere and block appropriate care."

Scheiner belongs to Physicians for a National Health Program, which, like a majority of Americans, favors Medicare for All - 58 percent favored "Having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all" in the July 2009 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, for example.

Tell President Obama and Congress, Yes we can have Medicare for All. Rep. Anthony Weiner's amendment would substitute the text of the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (HR 676), which has 86 co-sponsors, for House legislation HR 3200. Like the even worse Baucus bill in the Senate, HR 3200 would feed for-profit insurers more customers without providing the universal health care Medicare could provide at much lower cost.

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Holly Sklar is a widely published op-ed columnist whose books include "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us" and "Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood," the widely taught story of how the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative is rebuilding a long impoverished Boston community.
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