Volume 12, Issue 22 ~ May 27- June 2, 2004
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Is Our Healthcare System Broken?
by Frank L. Fox

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” goes the old adage. Well, some folks say the healthcare system in the United States is neither healthy, caring nor functioning.

Forty-three-million Americans have no health insurance, and even more are being crushed by rapidly rising premiums, co-payments or uncovered medical expenses. Most bankruptcies in America are the result of medical expenses.

Doctors are retiring or changing states in frustration with the insurance bureaucracy and rapidly escalating malpractice insurance. American corporations leave this country in part because increasing healthcare costs make them less competitive in world markets.

If that ain’t broke, I don’t know what is.

Here in Maryland, as this year’s General Assembly concluded, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich pledged to fund state educational priorities by making deep cuts in Medicaid and other state programs that assist the elderly and working-poor families. Of course, our public schools need additional money to try to keep up with growth.

But how can the governor justify taking desperately needed medical services from the poor?

In addition, a major bill that would expand health coverage to 60,000 working poor was narrowly defeated in the state Senate. More than 1.5 million Marylanders have inadequate or no medical insurance.

The very poor can get assistance from the government through the Medicaid program. But for those who are working and making enough to rise above the poverty level, our non-functional system fails. As the cost of health insurance continues to rise for everyone, the financial pressure is particularly acute for small businesses and the self-employed.

Several medical safety net programs for the working poor exist — Health Care Solutions in Calvert County, for example — with volunteers donating medical services, time and money. But these programs are limited and do not give the comprehensive protection that a good insurance policy would.

Johnathon Ross of Physicians for a National Health Program complains that our current healthcare funding system is really a jobs program for an army of paper pushers. He and a growing number of health providers advocate a state and national single-payer system.

The administrative savings and simplicity of a single-payer system would allow comprehensive, affordable coverage for all, with no new spending. Costs for 95 percent of citizens would be reduced, while everyone would have permanent healthcare coverage. The program would be publicly funded by new payroll taxes on businesses that would likely be less than they currently spend on employee health insurance.

Improved Medicare for all Americans, not just those over 65, could replace our inefficient system of multiple private insurers. And we could still choose our own doctors and hospitals for the private delivery of services.

At a public forum for healthcare reform this spring, Marilyn Hunter, Baltimore representative of the Labor Party, stressed the need to create the political will to effect change. Her party’s Just Health Care national health insurance plan would provide universal coverage of comprehensive health benefits for every U.S. resident. “By eliminating waste and profit in the private health insurance industry, the United States can pay for universal coverage as well as extensive benefits such as nursing home, prescription drugs and longterm care for the same total amount of money (an estimated $1.4 trillion annually) that we now spend,” she said.

Currently before several committees in Congress, HR 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act, introduced in February 2003 by Michigan Rep. John Conyers, awaits legislative action. The bill, according to Conyers’ staff, “would create a publicly financed, privately delivered healthcare program that uses the already existing Medicare program by improving and expanding it to all U.S. residents. The goal of the legislation is to ensure that all Americans, guaranteed by law, will have access to the highest quality and cost-effective healthcare services regardless of one’s employment, income or healthcare status.”

We all need to encourage our legislators to vote for a single-payer healthcare system such as HR 676. If they can’t do it soon, we need to elect people who will.

Frank Fox is a home and hospital teacher for Charles County Public Schools.

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