Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Government-Run Health Care: For Some or All?

Opponents of health care reform are quick to shout something about not wanting government-run health care ... even if half of them turn around and beg you not to touch their Medicare. Then there's the crowd of ignorance who believes the public option would lead to a government takeover of health care.

Then there's Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the lead Republican "negotiating" a health care reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee. He told a town hall crowd last week that he opposed a public option because he believed the American people deserved choices.

Umm, Senator? You do realize options and choices are the same thing, right?

Not that it matters; Grassley showed his true colors when a letter he wrote to fundraisers surfaced on Monday, in which he asked for "immediate support in defeating 'Obama-care'." This after Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) recorded a radio address in which he talked of wanting to kill health care reform.

Reports Tuesday hinted that the bill coming out of the Finance Committee likely won't contain a public option (which isn't really reform), but it's important to remember that's not going to be the only bill. It appears, though, that it would be the only health care reform bill in both chambers of Congress to not have a public option, so make of that whatever you will.

Then there's Ohio Rep. Joe Barton, who on Monday told The Washington Indepedent that if the GOP earned a majority in Congress after the 2010 elections, they would repeal any health care bill that passes. Uhh, Rep. Barton? That's a pretty big if, for one thing, and even if you do ... you'd still have a Democrat in the White House for at least two more years, and he'd likely veto your repeal.

Think, people. Think!

Yet the White House keeps hoping for bipartisanship. Why? Why go out of your way to appease a political minority who has made it clear time and again it wants nothing to do with your efforts? The Republican Party has repeatedly demonstrated that it cares little for the plight of ordinary Americans, so why do the Democrats keep trying to drag them onto the dance floor?

If White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' comments on Monday mean anything, perhaps the White House is finally abandoning the concept of bipartisanship. About eight months too late, but better late than never, I guess.

On her show Monday night, Rachel Maddow explained how there are examples of government-run health care already in this country ... but only certain segments of the population are entitled to them. Everyone else? Well, we get the stressful consolation prize of a private insurance industry hellbent on profits, which means denied coverage, dropped policies and partially-paid bills.

A system that's contributed to 62 percent of all bankruptcy filings from last year -- and 78 percent of those came from people who had insurance.

So let's recap:

Seniors have access to Medicare, a goverment-run single-payer health care system available to those 65 or older (or who meet a few other criteria). Although Medicare has struggled financially in recent years, most of its recipients hold firm to their desire to keep Medicare -- even as some of them scream about not wanting the government in control of their health care. Medicare is one of the major reasons my grandmother was able to successfully battle lymphoma this past year without suffering major financial losses.

Medicaid is a joint federal-state health care program designed to give low-income Americans health care. However, studies show that some 60 percent of "poor Americans" are not covered. Even though I make virtually nothing, I don't qualify for Medicaid.

Military veterans have access to Veterans Administration (VA) health care, which is -- you guessed it -- government-run. Though it too faces budget problems (no health care system is ever going to be perfect), those who can take advantage of the VA program are perfectly happy with it. Veterans are also eligible for a government program called Tricare For Life.

Tricare is run in part by the Department of Defense, and it offers care to military personnel, retirees and their families. Since my father served in the Air Force, I was covered under Tricare -- until I turned 23, and had to be dropped by law.

I haven't had coverage since ... mostly because of the out-of-this-world costs.

In 1997, the goverment created the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP. Created to cover children who were uninsured and part of families that can't afford private insurance but make too much to qualify for Medicaid, it's yet another government-run health care system. It was championed by the late Ted Kennedy, but George W. Bush twice vetoed bills that would expand S-CHIP's funding.

President Obama signed legislation in February expanding S-CHIP to cover up to 4 million more children and pregnant mothers.

So let's recap, shall we? In the United States of America, senior citizens, military veterans, government employees, children and the extremely poor have access to quality, government-run health care. Everyone else? So sorry ... have fun dealing with the private insurance companies and their "death panels". Better hope you don't get sick or in an accident, because the insurance company might drop you.

Better hope nothing's happened to you before, since insurance companies can call that a pre-existing condition. I had open-heart surgery when I was 4; I'm almost certain a private insurer would deny me coverage because of that ... or jack up my monthly premiums (which I already can't afford), or give me a policy, but tell me it won't pay for anything related to my heart.

This is the "system" in which we live. Certain members of the population are entitled to quality, affordable health care, while the rest of us are left to play Russian roullette with the insurance industry. I'm not suggesting those who have access don't deserve it ... what I'm trying to fight for is the right for everyone to have government-run health care.

The public option would provide that. It's not quite Medicare-for-all (which to me, would be the best-case scenario), but the public option would be a win-win for everyone. People without coverage would have an affordable option, one that would eventually force the private insurance companies to lower their costs.

Every other industrialized country on the planet recognizes that health care for all is a fundamental right, and that no one should ever go bankrupt because of disease or injury. Why can't the United States see this? Why are some segments of our population granted government-run, affordable health care, but not others?

Sounds a lot like discrimination to me.

Kennedy called health care reform the cause of his life, and he believed health care was a right for everyone -- not a luxury for the few. A basic human right, and it is wrong of anyone -- government or for-profit corporation -- to deny anyone that right. Again, I'm not saying take away Medicare or do away with the VA or S-CHIP ... keep all of those programs.

But what about something for the rest of us?

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