Future health care on the line

Eric M. Hitchcock is a physical therapist and disability evaluator living in Chico

I recently had a discussion with someone in his 70s who expressed how fortunate he was to have multiple surgeries and life-saving procedures covered by Medicare. The government paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to help him live, and he’s grateful. Yet, when we talked of the new report regarding Medicare going bankrupt 15 years from now, he responded, “What do I care? I won’t be around.”

As a health care professional and as a taxpayer, I am proud to participate in, and pay for, the health care of The Greatest Generation. The same applies to Americans of all ages. So it astounds me to hear someone express that he doesn’t care, essentially, that people 50 years and younger won’t have access to the same health coverage.

Yet that’s what our leaders are selling us as well. President Bush promotes privatizing health care and health savings accounts (HSAs). Remember Health Net, Pacificare, Blue Shield HMO and the aptly named Secure Horizons? When these private Medicare HMOs didn’t make money, they left Butte County, abandoning thousands. HSAs, which few can afford, will cover a paltry portion of needed care.

Additionally Bush promotes a scandalous half-trillion-dollar giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry that never would have passed if the White House hadn’t threatened Mr. Richard Foster, the Medicare actuary, against telling the American people the truth about the cost of this program, which neither conservatives nor liberals are happy with.

As we in Butte County are acutely aware, finding full-time work with good pay and benefits is tough. Employers would rather have part-time workers and not have to cover health care. This isn’t to blame employers; health care is expensive. But the “free market” isn’t so free in the world of health care. Private-pay premiums and co-pays have risen to the point of wiping out the average person’s tax cut. Millions lost jobs these past three years, millions more lost health coverage, and with salaries dropping average Americans are not going to get good health care as today’s Medicare recipients are getting.

Health care is not a privilege. Future generations deserve the best care too. Those who care for our future will look to new leadership this November.