Friday, August 21, 2009

Dr. Bill Roy: "I Attended a Death Panel in Holton, Kansas"

I attended a death panel in Holton, Kansas last week. Congresswoman Lyn Jenkins was the convener and presided.

I don‘t think anyone went there expecting to participate in a death panel, and even afterwards, most don’t realize they did. But any group of people who meet with the specific purpose of denying other people necessary medical care fully qualifies as a death panel. By their action, people die.

Small town people should have a good idea that people without insurance or money often--not always--can’t get care. If for no other reason, they should remember the bake sales they have had to raise money to help a neighbor get care for a family member who would die without it.

On the other hand, no one would expect them to have read the 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences which estimated 18,000 uninsured people die each year because they don’t get timely medical care.

Americans ration health care on ability to pay. If people did not know that before the congresswoman’s meeting, they should have when they left, because a neighbor told them how it happens.

A local business man said he has 15 employees, and only one has health insurance. He cannot afford to buy health insurance for his employees, who earn $12-$15 an hour, and they cannot afford to buy their own health insurance.

The consequence: “One of our workers died of cancer last year, because he didn’t see the doctor until it was too late.” There was a short pause; then the heavily Medicare crowd went back to expressing fears about what would happen to them if other people had health insurance, too.

But the people on these congressional death panels are only partly at fault. They have not been offered clear-cut, understandable alternatives to Glenn Beck’s ravings, and Wall Street Journal subterfuge.

Just 10 months ago voters turned their federal government over to Democrats, the party of Social Security and Medicare, programs that have made life more livable for millions of elderly Americans, and relieved their children of bills few could pay.

This time Americans expected health care reform. Instead, it looks like they may get “health insurance reform” that bundles up some of the uninsured, subsidizes their premiums with tax-dollars, and hands them over to private, for-profit insurance companies to limit care as they see fit.

Regretfully, such legislation will also put the congressional seal of approval on our current badly broken system. And, costs will continue to rise at twice the nation’s increase in productivity, and tens of millions will still not have health insurance.

But the public will have not only Democrats to blame. Republicans never intended to do anything constructive in the first place.

Democrats blew the possibility of meaningful reform right off the mark when they falsely announced, “Everything is on the table,” when everything was not on the table

A handful of White House operatives and members of Congress had decided that out of consideration to health insurance companies they would not consider a single-payer system--though single-payer is the basis for the successful health care systems of every other industrialized democracy, and has strong support in our country.

Medicare (our limited single-payer system) for all would have been a quick favorite. The five principles of the Canadian system would have also gained traction when people learned Canadians cover everyone for two-thirds what we are spending, and that any present Canadian short-comings would quickly disappear with infusion of half again as much money as they are now spending.

A combination of Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan 65 works well for Jane and me, and could for everyone. So could a single-payer system based on Canada’s five basic health care principles--public administration, universality, comprehensiveness, portability, and accessibility, administered by provinces (states).

For now, rich Americans and people living in nations with single-payer systems will live longer--while American death panels meeting in seemingly innocent places like Holton will continue to deny care to their fellow citizens. Being the richest nation in the world has not made us the most compassionate nation in the world.

Dr. Roy may be reached at

No comments: