Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mary Pitt: "Get real, Americans! You have been ripped off!"

Get real, Americans! You have been ripped off!


Mary Pitt

At long last, the age-old problem of health care for the poor and near-poor is being discussed in open forum. The problem has existed since the ethos of class differentiation was begun with the invention of wampum. In this modern age, it is only through the acivities of individual greed that it continues, despite the glaring fact that one solution is the only alternative.

Mitt Romney's Massachusetts experiment has already been exposed as a failure as will be any other program for "mandatory insurance". As with the assistance that is provided to the elderly holders of policies for Medicare Part D, recipients of the plan must be totally destitute in order to be free of the required "deductible and co-payment" muddle. Even if they have "insurance coverage" they still cannot afford the cash outlay that is necessary in order to obtain the necessary treatment.

How, then, to be sure that even those who are marginally above the "poverty level" can have the health care they need? How do we care for those who are ill before the condition creates a crisis? How to keep the healthy in good condition so that they can continue to lead productive lives?.

Half a century ago, a good businessman named Henry Kaiser joined other automobile and equipment manufacturers in ceasing the making of their former product in order to make the needed equipment that the country needed in order to effectively engage in World War II. He built huge shipyards on the West Coast and people poured in from all over the beleaguered nation to work in them. Soon it was apparent that these folks were physically devastated by the medical neglect, malnutrition, and other maladies inflicted by the Great Depression. The absenteeism troubled him until he reached one infallible conclusion: "It is less costly to keep people healthy than to get them well once they become ill."

On that philosophy he built his own clinics and hospitals where employees of his operations could receive physical check-ups regularly, necessary medications, dental care, and visual examinations and treatments. A small amount was deducted from the paychecks of the workers and Kaiser workers bcame healthy, happy, and productive. Only later did the Bess Kaiser Memorial Hospital system become the largest Health Maintenance Organization on the West Coast. With the end of the war and the closure of the shipyards, the program became open to other employers on a group plan, though only those who were employed by such an employer could benefit from the total coverage, the excellent care, and the reasonable cost. With the advent of other, similar companies, Kaiser became just another HMO in order to deal with the competition.

But the principle that was discovered by Henry Kaiser remains as true now as then. Even with the S-CHIP program, small chidren must either attend or miss school while suffering from an ear infection or a bad cough while his working father, mother, or both, must wait for a payday so they will have the necessary nine or ten dollars to make the "co-payment"in order to see a doctor. Employees go to work feeling ill but "toughing it out" because they cannot afford to risk a hospital stay for fear of the "deductible" and its devastating effect on the family budget. What we have is not working and the plans that are proposed will not work. The news site, Alternet, has done a good series on the problem which may be read here.

There are many arguments from those who oppose the Universal Health Care plans as proposed by Dennis Kucinich and others. One is that it would raise taxes. Horrors! Have you computed the amount that you pay in insurance premiums each year? The insurance companies have been "taxing" you for half a century and you take it in stride. The added taxes to cover your health care would not be likely to be more than you are paying now to the insurance company and the coverage would be better.

Another is that it would "destroy an industry". Perhaps an unfeeling industry should be brought to account for the exhorbitant profits that they have amassed as the result of denying care, requiring co-payments and deductibles to deter people from fully utilizing their benefits, and refusing coverage to "high-risk individuals". Let them go back to insuring lives and property, cars, houses, and business liabilities.

The third argument against free universal health care is that it would cost too much. This argument is the least effective when viewed in the light of realism. The insurance companies declare an annual profit of some Ten Billion Dollars! How many of the 40% of Americans without adequate health care could be kept healthy by the addition of that amount to be paid to physicians, hospitals, and pharmacists?

It is time that the American people take a clear-eyed look at the reasons why our children are being weakened, our workers hindered, and our elderly going without medications at the end of the year because of the dread "donut hole"while we bear the burden of making the rich even richer. We manage our personal budgets with care to be sure that we spend our money in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Why should we ask less of those firms that are stealing our health care dollars while leaving us without that for which we are paying? As they "cream the market", insuring only the healthy and discontinuing coverage for those with serious illnesses, those left uninsured must liquidate their homes and other assets to pay for their own medical care until they are destitute and qualify for Medicaid and welfare.

That is why our nation, which spends more for health care than any other can only rank 45th in the quality of care. Those who can afford it have access to the most modern technology and life-saving procedures where those who cannot are left with medical care that is reminiscent of the nineteenth century. This is the great shame of our vaunted democracy where we expound that "all men are created equal". The big lie is exposed when you learn that the rich get the best while the poor are shunted aside to die of neglect. When a plan is suggested that would care for the poor while costing the rich no more, we owe it to ourselves to give it serious consideration.

The author is a very "with-it" old lady who aspires
to bring a bit of truth, justice, and common sense
to a nation that has lost touch with its humanity in
the search for societal "perfection."

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