Healthcare Debate Unraveled. Thanks Jim Wallis.

I’m getting so tired of the misinformation, soundbytes, and extreme rhetoric of the current debate on reforming the US healthcare system. Rather than talk about the facts and what’s really being proposed, most of the discussion seems to revolve around crazy assertions (like killing senior citizens?) that are not based on any part of the actual bills. Our current system is unjust, giving top-of-the-line healthcare to those who can afford it and leaving almost 50 million others completely without care altogether.  We should be ashamed that we allow such conditions to exist in a Western nation such as ours. The debate should not be about whether or not we reform the system but how quickly we can do it, including a public option for those who the private system just will not support. Every other developed nation has done it. That in and of itself should tell us its a good idea.

Today Jim Wallis of Sojourners (and author of God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong And The Left Doesn’t Get It) sent an excellent letter to his supporters. He wrote:

As a nation, we are engaged in making decisions about our health care that will impact our families and communities for generations to come.

And I must personally share with you that I’ve had enough of the misinformation and, frankly, misleading statements coming from those who oppose the transformation of a health system that currently renders the best health care to the wealthiest, depletes the savings of solidly middle-class Americans, and leaves 46 million people with no health-care coverage at all.

We don’t have to fall victim to the naysayers – those seeking to prop up the status quo and sustain the profits of the massive insurance corporations.

Business as usual is not what we’re about. It’s not what change is about. It’s certainly not what people of good will from all faiths, who embrace the Golden Rule and seek the common ground of justice and fairness, are about….

This must stop. We are the ones who can stop it. Together, speaking out, acting out, and joining as one on a mission, we can push back the clouds of misinformation and fear-mongering, and allow the light of truth shine through.

Today, right now, let’s join together making the health-care debate factual, worthy of our families and communities. Let’s put the special interests on notice that we want real health-care reform, not misinformation and fear-mongering.

On Wallis’ site he’s posted a fabulous, faith-based guide to the healthcare reform, talking about what’s really true (you’ll be able to keep your own doctor) and what’s not (senior citizens will not be exterminated), as well as the pros and cons of various aspects in the reform such as the public option being proposed. I praise Wallis and his team for speaking out on behalf of the Christian faith community in a reasonable, calm, fact-based way. Such influence is badly needed in the discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think.

$3/ Month? For Kids I Can Do That

The Oregon State legislature just passed a whole slew of new taxes to cover funding gaps across the state. One that caught my eye (or ear actually, since I was listening to NPR) is an approved new tax on health insurance premiums to provide healthcare for Oregon’s uninsured children.  According to the story, the average privately insured Oregonian (such as my family) will pay $3/ month on top of their healthcare premiums. As my friend Jordan pointed out, that’s one latte from Starbucks.  Ouch.

So far there is no organized oppostion to the tax, which amazes me in this tax-phobic state. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love higher taxes anymore than the next person. Whether or not this new tax lowers overall health costs, as proponents for it argue, we should provide healthcare for all children no matter what it costs us. A society that denies a basic human right such as healthcare for its most vulnerable citizens is truly heartless but sadly, that’s what we have become.  It gladdens my heart to see an idea put forward that will ensure all kids, not just certain kids,will be able to get their basic health needs met. I for one can go with one less latte each month.

Healthcare Is A Human Right And Our Nation Is Violating It

Watching last night’s presidential debate with our good friends, Jeff and Becky, sparked many interesting discussions. Although it was not the central topic of the debate, of particular interest was our conversation about universal healthcare. Is it a right or a privilege?

I believe it’s a basic right and our nation violates it every single day. The Declaration of Independence starts with:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalieanble rights, that among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We have declared since the foundation of our nation that all our citizens have the right to life, and yet everyday someone goes bankrupt who can’t pay his healthcare bills or somebody dies because she couldn’t pay for her prescription medicine.  Our market-based system has allowed costs to sky-rocket to the point that we are all just one illness away from catastrophe, regardless of our coverage. My husband is a physician and we have excellent health insurance but even it has limits on what it will cover for us.

We universally cover everyone in our country with police and fire protection. The fire department would never put out a fire at someone’s house and then a few days later send them a bill so astronomical they had to sell what was left of that house to pay for it. We would be shocked and outraged if that happened. But that happens all the time to people who go to the hospital in our country without health insurance. They are treated in the emergency room or even admitted for care. They go home once they are stable and then the bills start trickling in, bills that can take everything they have.

No other developed nation does this! From Taiwan (see clip above) to Canada to Switzerland to Germany and Japan, every other developed nations and even some developing, like Thailand, have figured out ways to make sure everyone has healthcare.

And it’s not all “socialized,” that is, it’s not all government delivered. Ten years Switzerland had a privatized healthcare system similar to ours. Their citizens decided they were sick (literally) of some people slipping through the cracks. They kept their private insurance companies but made sure no one could be denied by an insurance company and put a few rules in place to make sure everyone could afford it as well.

It’s also a false rumor that if you have universal healthcare, the quality slips.  PBS created an excellent documentary, Frontline’s Sick Around The World (see clips above), which you can watch in full online in addition to the clips I’ve posted here.  In it the witty host, T.R. Reid, visits multiple developed nations and asks them how they do healthcare. He finds that not only does nobody in any of those nations ever go bankrupt from healthcare bills, he finds that in general people are satisfied with their care and it’s still high-quality.

Healthcare outcomes tracked by organizations like the World Health Organization back up the quality of care in other developed nations. The U.S. falls embarrassingly low in health measures compared to other countries of equal or even lesser wealth, even though we spend more per capita than any other nation in the world! For infant mortality rates, we rank 32nd among the world’s nations, on par with countries like Poland and Slovakia. More than 5 of every 1000 babies born die in our country. In Japan that number is under 2 per 1000.

Our two presidential candidates both have plans of some sort. McCain’s plan will cause just as many people to lose health insurance as will gain it. His plan is a wash. Obama’s plan will leave our private system in place but adjust it so it works for us, adding a government buy-in plan for people whose employers do not offer healthcare, among many facets. His plan is not perfect by any stretch but it’s a huge leap in the right direction.

Obama has a decent plan. McCain essentially has no plan. For me, the choice is clear.

See my previous post about healthcare, including a link to a table comparing the two candidate’s plans.

Some Thoughts On The U.S. Healthcare System

I’m concerned about healthcare in our country. Deeply concerned. The facts are that over 45 million Americans do not have access to health insurance and most of those people (80%) are part of working families. America spends more per person on healthcare than European countries with universal coverage and yet we leave millions of our citizens in the dust. We are subject to an incredibly inefficient system motivated by profits rather than the health of our citizens. I’m married to a physician and hear regularly his concerns about patients who fall between the cracks and don’t have insurance, and therefore can’t get the care they need.

But neither the impersonal facts nor my husband’s daily experience are what really upset me this week. What made this reality of inequity and lack of access hit home was when a good friend confided in me that she and her toddler son were denied health insurance. She recently quit her full-time job to stay home with her son but was denied coverage when she went to buy insurance through a well-known healthcare system. The reason? She had kidney stones last year. And why would an insurance company deny coverage for a healthy 18-month old? Because he has had ear infections! What toddler hasn’t had ear infections?

My friend was finally able to find insurance through a more expensive plan but many people are not so lucky. Her experience demonstrates that none of us are truly safe in our country’s healthcare system. It is beyond faulty, it is intolerable. I believe healthcare is a right of every American, not just for those who are lucky enough to have employers who provide it.

My plea to you, my blog readers, is to please make healthcare a part of your decision-making in the presidential election. I’m unabashedly an Obama supporter but you can make up your own mind. Look closely at both candidate’s plans and see which one you like best. Even if you and your family have quality, affordable healthcare, remember under our current system that may not always be the case. Our current system is a disaster and clearly unjust.

Who do you think has the better healthcare plan? How important is healthcare as you make your decision for president?