Time for citizen action

Don’t trust politicians with health-care reform

Anna Barela is a Sacramento freelance writer with a day job in accounting.

How many politicians will it take to change our broken health-care system?

From President Clinton’s failed 1993 health-care reform effort to California’s own recently DOA project, the smoke screen of activity masks the truth that our leaders like the system just the way it is. The presidential candidates have all thrown their hat in the ring for health-care reform, but each proposal is only a Band-Aid. None solve the problem for most of America’s 47 million uninsured and 16 million underinsured.

California’s governor talks about insuring every Californian, but has slashed crucial Medi-Cal payments. Hospitals serving low-income areas already operate in the red and face serious risk of closing if funds are lost.

Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have each backed down from previous—more radical—reform proposals. Could that possibly be due to the hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions candidates Clinton, Obama and Sen. John McCain have received from the insurance industry? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the insurance industry is second in election-campaign spending only to the pharmaceutical industry.

Since health-care problems don’t touch politicians personally—they’ve got great insurance—it’s easy for them to surrender to industry interests. Insured voters are often comfortable, too, with employer health benefits, and offer little protest.

I have pretty good health insurance. While HMO red tape irks me from time to time, when I need to see a doctor, I can, and my asthmatic husband can get the care he needs to stay well. But I have been on the other side of the system.

A few years ago, my employer’s insurance covered only me. My husband’s employer did not provide health benefits. As newlyweds just starting out, we were each scarcely clearing minimum wage. Medi-Cal declined to enroll my husband, and since preventive asthma medication costs hundreds a month, he did without.

His asthma got worse—a lot worse. Eventually, we were making monthly trips to the ER because he couldn’t breathe. Fifteen-thousand dollars later, we filed bankruptcy.

According to the Institute of Medicine, 18,000 people die each year from preventable medical problems. Harvard University puts the number closer to 100,000. As health-care costs and uninsured numbers spiral out of control, it may not be long before the hospital in your neighborhood closes its doors due to lack of funding, yet revenue will still line the pockets of the insurance company CEOs.

Since politicians won’t risk losing campaign money, it’s the voters—insured and uninsured at all income levels—who must step up and demand health care for all. Unless voters find their conscience, nothing will change until the health-care system deteriorates enough that a Granite Bay suburbanite’s access to care is affected.

The real question is: How many citizens will it take to change our broken health-care system?

Every single one.