Health reform: Are we there yet?

March 9 forum will try to answer the question

The author is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program. She lives and practices primary-care medicine in Chico.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is being rolled out, but many questions remain. Will it guarantee universal coverage? Will it stand up to the many court challenges? The private insurance industry will receive an estimated $400 billion in taxpayer money to subsidize the purchase of these plans—is this the best way to spend our money?

Many of us in the health field remain skeptical of the program. Physicians for a National Health Program estimates that approximately 23 million people will remain uninsured. Many more will find themselves underinsured with high co-payments and deductibles. They will have insurance coverage that still leaves them at risk of financial ruin in the event of serious illness.

America spends $2.4 trillion a year on health care, more than any other advanced country. Yet this higher spending does not translate into better health status. Americans have a lower life expectancy, higher infant-mortality rate and poorer access to care when compared to most industrialized nations. In a 2002 report, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 18,000 patients die annually due to a lack of health insurance.

Where does all the money go? The private-insurance health plans consume approximately 30 percent of their expense in administrative costs, profits and CEO salaries. These costs do not directly benefit the patients; instead, they keep insurance unaffordable for many Americans.

One reform proposal gaining momentum across the nation is single-payer health care. Physicians and other health-care institutions would operate independently and collect payments from a single entity, which would significantly reduce the expense and challenges of collecting from a variety of payers. It would also significantly reduce the administrative costs and the profits that motivate major insurers.

Recent surveys of physicians have found 59 percent favor a national health-insurance plan.

Learn more at the upcoming public forum March 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Enloe Conference Center presented in collaboration with Enloe Medical Center, Butte-Glenn Medical Society and the local chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. Featured speakers will include Jeff Lobosky, author of The Doctor Won’t See You Now: The Failure of American Health and a Prescription for the Cure; Mike Wiltermood, CEO of Enloe Medical Center; and Richard Thorpe, delegate to the California Medical Association. The discussion will also be broadcast on KPAY radio.