‘Health care is a right’
Physicians join the ranks of those working toward ‘Medicare for everyone’
At a routine checkup last December, a local doctor advised Sandra Goulart to wait a year before having necessary blood work done.
Ten and a half months later, Goulart is counting the days until she turns 65. Dec. 7, she’ll finally be eligible for Medicare, and she’ll be able to stop living in fear of getting sick, and even have the mammograms she said she has skipped.
She has insurance, but like many Americans she is underinsured, something Dr. Don McCanne, speaking at a health care forum last Thursday (Oct. 11) in the Chico City Council chambers, said 28 percent of privately insured Americans experience.
McCanne is a senior health policy fellow for and past president of the group Physicians for a National Health Program. The event was sponsored by the California Nurses Association and the League of Women Voters. OneCareNow, a grassroots campaign supporting single-payer health insurance, and the Butte County Healthcare Coalition, which has long advocated for the same, were there in force.
Even before her doctor visit last year, Goulart felt the burden of being underinsured. When she had a skin cancer removed from her nose, her insurer paid roughly $150 of the $3,000 to $4,000 bill.
“Oh, this is one of the worst companies out there,” McCanne told Goulart after the forum, when she showed him a letter from MEGA Life and Health Co., informing her that her monthly payment would increase to $619 beginning Nov. 1, 2007.
The only reason she has a policy with what she called a “junk insurance” company is that no other insurance company would take her, she said. Twenty-five years ago she had the virulent form of skin cancer, melanoma, and since then it has been nearly impossible to obtain health insurance.
She couldn’t believe her insurer “had the nerve” to raise her premium for her last month in the private health insurance world but said that out of fear she’s keeping the plan so that at least she’ll have “something to fight” if her health goes south and MEGA won’t pay.
“It’s scary that people are waiting to turn 65 so they’ll be eligible to receive adequate health insurance,” Goulart said.
If the underinsured are scared, McCanne said, think how the roughly 47 million Americans with no insurance at all must feel. They live every day with a feeling of insecurity.
“Who wants to see Medicare totally abolished?” McCanne asked his audience of around 100.
When everyone kept their hands in their laps, he asked sarcastically, “What, are you a bunch of socialists?”
He did that to prove a point. In any discussion of single-payer health insurance, it inevitably is equated with socialism. In reality, McCanne said, the plan is “Medicare for everyone.”
In a week (meaning today, Oct. 18), McCanne said, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to override President Bush’s veto of an expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, the highly successful program that is equivalent to Medicare for children of low-income families. The battle over SCHIP represents the increasingly more prevalent debate over whether private or government-run programs are more efficient and affordable.
Even though most Americans support government health-care programs such as SCHIP, Medicare and Medicaid, President Bush, who enjoys government-funded health insurance himself, is steadfast in his efforts to privatize not only SCHIP but most social programs, like Social Security, McCanne said.
In California, 6.5 million people are uninsured, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to implement universal health care, too. However, his approach is much different.
There are two options for health care reform, McCanne said. The current privatized system can be expanded, or a single-payer system can be organized.
Schwarzenegger’s plan expands on the current system by requiring all Californians to buy health insurance, much like the law requiring drivers to have auto insurance. But, just as with auto insurance, McCanne said, not everyone will buy health insurance; thus not everyone will be covered.
Schwarzenegger’s answer is to fine those who don’t comply.
This is a backward approach, McCanne said. If people can’t afford insurance, how will they pay the fine?
A similar program isn’t working in Massachusetts, despite the fact many politicians have labeled it the model for health care reform, McCanne said. In fact, the level of uninsured actually increased in 2006 to more than 10 percent of the state’s population.
“We can no longer afford the waste and inefficiency, the high overhead and outrageous executive salaries of the private insurance industry,” McCanne said. “Only reforms that end our reliance on defective private coverage and assure guaranteed coverage for all will work.”