Health Care Reform: My Number One Issue

originally posted at Daily Kos Sat Nov 15, 2008

Certainly, in this time of great uncertainty in the United States, many issues are of importance to me, and indeed to us all. The poor state of our economy, and the handout of billions to the very people who made this mess, the morally bankrupt, never-ending war and threat of war, the use of fear of “the other” by our leaders to control our thoughts and actions, the loss of civil rights (such as privacy in our communications, and the right of dissent with said governmental leaders), the tenor of some politicians’ discourse, seemingly calculated to engender a firestorm of hatred against their opponents, to name but a few. I could go on, perhaps ad infinitum. Our nation is truly at a cross-roads, and where it goes from here is either on the road to recovery or to ruin, in so many ways. But one issue seems to me so obvious as to how it must go, and sometimes I feel like I am the only person who feels as I do.

As I write this, I sit by the bedside of my beloved fiancée, who at the age of 46 was struck by a near fatal health crisis. This crisis was over two months ago now, and thankfully she is on the road to recovery herself. Had it not been for the loving generosity of some very wonderful friends, though, she would be in a charity hospital receiving only minimal care, and likely on the road to a lifetime of confinement in a nursing home. Let’s face it folks, in the good old U. S. of A., you get the best health care you can afford. I’ve been “affording” an excellent private health care package for her since she was forced to quit working due to longer term health issues.

She was repeatedly denied coverage by traditional insurance companies, and is covered under what is termed the state “high risk pool”. You don’t want to know how much that coverage costs every month. During that first traumatic month, I was almost forced to choose between working to pay for that insurance, or being at her side where I was needed so that I could make health care decisions for her, literally at a moment’s notice. The aforementioned friends covered that insurance payment for her so that I could be there for her.

Now to my point: Joe Klein almost went there in a recent Time blog post:

Oh, and by the way, if government activism is now back on the table, we can begin to talk about the real answers to our entitlement problems: Medicare and medicaid can only be solved when they’re included in a comprehensive, regulated and managed universal health insurance system.

I only have one problem with that quote. Even he still feels the need to use the word “insurance” when describing the solution. I am in complete agreement with the rest of his statement. But health insurance? Truthfully, the solution is not any kind of insurance. Do you buy insurance to pay the fireman who comes to save your life in the inferno that was once your home? Do you buy insurance to pay the police officer who responds to the armed robbery in progress in your small business? No, you don’t, because those are seen, rightfully so, as basic services provided by government in order to “promote the general welfare” of the people. Why then must we continue to talk of “insurance” for one of the most basic of “general welfare” needs of our people?

It’s simple really. This need is being driven by the profit motive, rather than the altruism of the first fire departments, or the “protect and serve” motive of our police departments. Why is that? How did it come to be that altruism is not the driving factor of the practice of medicine? I don’t really know, and in all honesty, it’s not why I come before you today. Rather, I come to you simply with the proposition that health care IS properly a basic need that is at least as important as fire and police protection. In both those instances, you do buy recovery insurance, and perhaps there is a place in my grand scheme for health recovery insurance. I contend though that the quality of treatment of a life threatening condition should not be determined by what you can afford to pay. The time you spend waiting for diagnosis should not be determined by the inverse of your bank balance. No family should ever be forced to choose between being at the side of a gravely ill loved one and being able to pay for the best possible care.

So long as the word “insurance” is part of the national health care discourse, so long as the profit motive is more important than the Hippocratic Oath, we will never get to where we as a nation must ultimately go. Health care reform begins with removing that word from the conversation. How do we do that? By enacting HR 676 as soon as possible.

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