It’s time for health care that works

The full text of America’s Health Care Rankings can be found at

Summer is here at last, along with all-American pastimes like barbecues, baseball games, and partisan bickering. Witness conservative responses to health-care reform: Insurance companies and Republicans are running ads across the country proclaiming reform efforts as a “government takeover” of health care, one that will eliminate options for privately-funded care—one step short of socialism, as more radical voices proclaim. These tired scare tactics are weak on factual detail and long on willing suspension of disbelief. Nevada Congressman Dean Heller toes the party line in his recent opinion to the Reno Gazette-Journal, suggesting that reform will force people into “a ‘one size fits all’ government program,” a “scheme to place bureaucrats in charge of a government-run health care system.” As if health care isn’t currently run by bureaucrats—just privately-funded ones with no independent oversight and no accountability except to shareholders.

It’s a familiar tune, this anti-government rhetoric, and one that apparently plays well with a lot of Americans. But I am curious as to why people buy it. Sure, government bureaucracies can be cumbersome and wasteful, but so are corporate bureaucracies, as the health care industry demonstrates so forcefully. Sure, government can be corrupt and can have other interests at heart than those of the average Joe, but at least we have a political system that is supposed to be accountable to voters, and time and time again voters have successfully turned around government policies. Not so with private businesses and corporations, whose explicit duty is to satisfy shareholders’ need for profit, and whose practices are far more immune to reform efforts. Somehow, over the past 20-odd years, advertisers and conservative politicians have managed to map a false path from “freedom” to “freedom of choice” to “free market” in our public consciousness. In following this path, we reject the specter of government “intrusion” while submitting without question to increasing corporate control.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, our blind acceptance of free market fundamentalism—as some critics call it—has led Nevadans into a health-care quandary of magnificent proportions.

As with foreclosures, Nevada leads the rest of the country in the severity of its health care crisis. Nevada has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country and last year dropped from 39th to 42d. In contrast with the vague scare tactics of conservatives, Nevada health care statistics recently released paint a truly frightening scenario:

• From 2000 to 2007, health insurance premiums in Nevada increased by more than 54.6 percent while median yearly wages increased only 21.4 percent.

• In five years, the percentage of children in poverty has nearly doubled from 9 to 14.

• Nevada’s median yearly wage in 2007 was only $30,859, but the average health care premium for a family was $10,341.

• In 2008, the average premium for family coverage in Nevada was $11,124. By 2016, that number is expected to be more than $19,000.

High costs, low health index, and a shortage of doctors combine to create a perfect health care storm for Nevada, exacerbated by state government cuts in state employee health benefits. In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton’s efforts to reform health care were successfully torpedoed by a coalition of insurance industry lobbyists and conservatives. Since that time, the free market has had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate its ability to meet our health care needs, and our current situation is a crystal-clear example of its failure to do so. Nevadans simply can’t afford the current health care model, and until they can offer a viable alternative, conservatives like Dean Heller should just get out of the way.