October 6, 2007
There is something in the air besides autumn. I’ve been waiting for readers to take me to task for the Gray Matters of Aug. 4, in which I suggested that all of us – young and old – needed a single-payer universal health plan, Medicare for All, even if it meant raising some taxes.
But if you go to Newsday online and read the comments, several of which I list below, you’ll see that no one dissented. And while the e-mail and regular mail voiced skepticism that our politicians would overcome the conservative opposition and the lobbies of the medical-industrial complex, virtually everyone welcomed the possibility of universal Medicare for every American, as if to say with a deep sigh, “It’s about time.”
Alas, the presidential candidates, especially most of the Democrats, have not caught up with the voters. They still are trying to avoid a single-payer plan to pacify the insurance industry and minimize their opposition
Yet, the messages of the past couple of years have sunk in with readers, if not the pols. Just last month the National Center for Health Statistics reported that while life expectancy has risen among white American males to 77.9 years, the United States has dropped from 11th to 42nd place in 20 years. But we’re first in the problem of obesity and the number of people (47 million) without health coverage. Wednesday, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have expanded government health insurance for children.
And every day there’s another horror story about someone whose insurance failed them and left them broke as well as sick. Consumer Reports last month said that 29 percent of insured persons who were surveyed said their coverage was so meager that they often postponed medical care. And 43 percent with insurance said they were financially unprepared to cope with serious illness.
One writer from Brooklyn made a point by attaching a Newsday story about the naval ship Comfort, which had just completed a mission to provide free medical care for 25,000 patients in Belize and Guatemala. “It appears that the U.S. provides free medical care to everyone but U.S. citizens,” said the writer.
From Johannes in Gallatin, Tenn.: “Several hundred billions for a war that was supposedly meant to protect Americans, but billions for universal health care could protect Americans. I’ve heard people say health care is a privilege and not a right.”
But Mag, from Katy, Texas, replied, “When the uninsured quit buying cell phones and cable TV and eating out at every fast-food place … I might care about their plight.”
To which Johannes replied, “How do you know that people buying fast-food, cell phones and cable TV are all uninsured? … A great many uninsured people have jobs and would love to pay for insurance but insurance companies don’t like to cover everyone.”
And Judy K, from New York, wrote, “I watched ‘Sicko’ yesterday and I cried for the people in the film and for all other Americans in similar positions. I am so angry. Our government has let us down on every level.”
The e-mail from Daryl Altman, 52, of Lynbrook, was clinical, reflecting his profession. He’s a pediatrician and an allergist for the school health program of New York City’s Health Department. And he supplements his income treating poor patients at a community health center. But, as he writes, “I’m also a patient like everyone else.” And in the summer, when there is no school, he’s furloughed and loses his health insurance. “So right now, my family and I are among the millions of uninsured Americans.” He added, “But I’m lucky. I’m a doctor and I earn a decent living. I see patients every day, mostly American citizens, working poor who can afford my care because of my clinic’s sliding scale. But they won’t get better because they can’t afford their asthma medication. It’s obvious to me that the only answer is Medicare for all. Medicare works for senior citizens. Why are the rest of Americans denied this plan?” Altman digressed to analyze most Republican plans, like one offered by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, which depends on giving tax credits of up to $15,000 to workers to buy insurance. Good insurance for a family of four might cost near that much.
But citing the IRS tax tables, Altman pointed out that a person qualifying for $15,000 in credits is earning $80,000. But the median family income in the U.S. is $46,000, with taxes amounting to $6,860. Even if the worker got every penny back in credit, it wouldn’t buy much health insurance. “The larger issue,” Altman said, “is why should insurance companies exist at all? Why should non-medical people at remote locations be making medical decisions for my patients? Why should shareholders speculate with our health care money? The money wasted by insurance companies could easy fund Medicare for all.”
Coincidentally, the aforementioned Consumer Reports analysis found that the median income of families without health insurance was $58,950 a year. But between 2001 and 2005, employer-based health coverage for middle-income households – a family of four earning between $40,000 and $80,000 – declined by 4 percent.
“An explanation isn’t difficult to find,” said Consumer Reports. “Health plans are offloading more and more expenses onto consumers. Co-pays and deductibles have risen steadily.”
Dr. Don McCanne, of Physicians for a National Health Program, says, “Private insurers have had their day. They have been ineffective in expanding coverage and affordability, while being the greatest cause of the expanding inefficiency of our system.”
Tell that to the presidential candidates.
WRITE TO Saul Friedman, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY, 11747-4250, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.