No Way, Sanjay
Say it isn't so - Sanjay Gupta as the next Surgeon General. At a time when 18,000 of us die every year from lack of access to health care, we need a champion to go up against the Congress and the insurance company lobbyists. We don't need someone in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. We do not need someone who can do brain surgery. We do need someone who will fight for those who need brain surgery.
Doctor Gupta has a history of siding with the status quo. That is the opposite of what is needed. We need access to health care for everyone - pure and simple. Nothing less will do. This is not nuclear physics or brain surgery. It is politics.
Many of the 18,000 who die from lack of health care are children. On September 28, 2007 BBC reported - "... In February, there was an outcry over the case of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy who died because his family could not afford private dental treatment. "The thing about Deamonte was his smile, he was always smiling," says Gina James, principal of The Foundation School in Maryland, where Deamonte was a popular and promising student.
It was while he was at school one Thursday in February that Deamonte complained of toothache. On the Saturday he had emergency surgery. An abscess had spread to his brain. A few weeks later he died.
"Everyone here was shocked," says Ms James. "They couldn't understand how he could have toothache and then die. We sometimes give the little kids candy as a reward; well, for a while they stopped taking it because they would say 'if I get a cavity, will I die?'"
Deamonte's mother, Alyce, could not afford private health insurance and in the US there is no state health service. For the poorest there is some free treatment, called Medicaid. But not all dentists or doctors accept Medicaid patients, and Alyce Driver could not afford to pay to have Deamonte's tooth extracted. Some 45 million Americans are without health insurance, nine million of them children.
Many say it is America's national scandal. ..."
The new Surgeon General should be someone who understands why the USA is the only developed nation in the industrialized world to have no health care for many citizens. Understanding the problem should be the number one qualification. Not only doctors, but also nurses, dentists, teachers, blue collar workers and those in many other professions qualify. The point is this - it is not necessary for the SG to be a medical doctor. Having an M.D. behind the name should neither qualify nor disqualify anyone. Lack of compassion and a lack of understanding of the real problem should be the disqualifying factors.
How about a Surgeon General nominee who needs a root canal but has no money? Extreme pain can sometimes fill a person with empathy. Dental care, eye care, prescription drug coverage, long term care (in and out of the home) should be included in a new Single Payer System.
Michael Moore made a major contribution with "Sicko" - one of the best documentaries of our generation. Mike Moore is a controversial guy, but that is irrelevant. The facts are the facts and Moore did a great job in presenting the facts in "Sicko". He 'gets' it. He understands the suffering of those who face the calamity of a health crisis. He understands that the leading cause of bankruptcy has been major illness. He understands that it is the collusion between the Congress and the insurance companies that is responsible for the needless deaths - 18,000 every year. That is like having a 9/11 every sixty days - but worse. We are doing this to ourselves by continuing to allow the insurance companies to profiteer and deny care to those who have insurance. Those without insurance don't stand a chance.
The powers that be, are tweaking around the ragged edges of health care. There is a movement to convert all paper medical records to an electronic form. Follow the money on that one. It will be a boondoggle for some companies. Will it compromise the privacy of patient records? Will it improve the quality of care or increase the number of people who have access to care? Unfortunately it will be a distraction from the real problem - lack of access to the care, not the records.
The bottom line is this. We can have insurance companies or we can have universal health care, but we can't have both. Only a Single Payer System will work. Any plan that allows the insurance companies to continue to profiteer will fail to provide the care. Children, such as Deamonte Driver, will continue to die.
Good candidates for Surgeon General are Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, and many other lesser knowns. Ralph Nader is over-qualified for the job, but maybe that is exactly what is needed - someone with a long history as an advocate for the common man.
Now is the wrong time for a media star who does not understand what it feels like to have a loved one in need of health care that is not accessible. We need someone with compassion and the courage to go up against the power of the insurance companies - a fighter for the people.
Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist and peace activist living in Vermont.