On Health Care
About four years ago, a healthy 51-year-old, Wanda Wickizer, suffered a hemorrhage in which blood from a failing vessel leaked into the space between her skull and her brain. That sort of leakage creates pressure which, if not relieved quickly, impinges on nerves that control breathing and vision and often results in death. However, Wanda was fortunate; after a three-week hospitalization, the widowed mother of two returned home and gradually regained normal functioning. But not before the bad news began to pour in: an avalanche of bills totaling nearly half a million dollars.
Out of work and having decided she couldn’t afford insurance for herself, Wanda had enrolled her children in Medicaid but left herself uninsured. Thus, she became another casualty in our inhumane refusal to create a healthcare system that works for all of us. Her story is detailed in a recent article by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times.
Winston Churchill once famously said, “You can count on the Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else.”
Perhaps our current god-awful chase through Never-Never Land means we’re gradually reaching the end of the “everything else” and may eventually do not only the “right” thing, but the sensible thing as well. How many millions have we spent not on health care or even health care insurance, but on chasing the phantoms of “affordable” health care in complex plans of private/public coverage?
The balkiest impediment to sane, humanitarian health-insurance-for-all in this country is a constipated Congress. The reasons are two-fold: money and dogmatism. The money that pours into congressional campaigns from insurance companies, drug makers, and super-pacs buys the vote of many a legislator, especially those of a “conservative” ilk, i.e., Republicans. The Republicans, in turn, prop up their stance by arguing that a government-run universal plan represents an unacceptable level of “big government.”*
Interestingly, however, truth slipped from the Trump tongue during the recent visit of Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia. “We have a failing health care,” Trump remarked. “You have better health care than we do.” And theirs is much less expensive in the bargain, I might add. Australia provides a government-run universal access health care system in which average medical costs in a recent year were $3,670 per person. In contrast, the U.S. per person expense was more than twice that at $8,233. (Click here for details.)
Later Trump twittered, “Of course the Australians have better health care than we do—everybody does.” (Hyperbole always, of course.) His moment of relative clarity was fleeting, however, as he went on to declare, “Obama Care is dead! But our health care will soon be great.” Oh? And that would be the one the GOP’s been promising? The one in which an estimated 24 million people would lose their coverage? The loosey-goosey one that allows states to obtain waivers so they can charge older people as much as five times more than younger ones, eliminate coverage required under Obamacare, and increase premiums (or deny coverage altogether) to those with pre-existing conditions? That’s “great?” (Incidentally, do you know the name of that bill? H.R.1275 – World’s Greatest Healthcare Plan of 2017!)
We all know there is no perfect plan. Opponents of universal health care like to point out that taxes would undoubtedly rise in order to pay for this. Of course—but we have to factor against that the savings from insurance premiums which would be defunct.**
Consider the plight of a 64-year-old with an income of $26,500 per year. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), under Obamacare she pays $1,700 for insurance coverage with the government subsidizing the rest of the $15,300 annual premium. Under the GOP plan, which allows premiums to be determined by a person’s age, in a “non-waiver” state, she would pay $16,100 with the government paying only $4,900 of the $21,000 annual premium.
If only the GOP had the same concern about the expense of corporate welfare (cozy tax breaks for Exxon and their brethren), the blazing growth of the national debt, and the mounting costs which will result from our cavalier disregard for our failing infrastructure. Welcome to our recklessness, future generations.
We all need to let our legislators know what we think, not only about health care plans, but also about any other issues that concern us. To see the names of your senators and congressperson, their Washington phone numbers and links to their websites go to https://govtrack.us.
*It’s perplexing that some of those very same people believe that Big-Brother government is okay when it comes to the matter of intruding on the most intimate aspects of female life (vaginal ultrasound? … oh, yeah, let’s require that) but that’s a topic for another page. Give me time.
May 31, 2017
**UPDATE 7/6/17: For a more comprehensive explanation of the financial implications of single payer vs. private health insurance, see "The Dumbest Criticism of Single Payer Health Care," Washington Post, 7/6/17.