Columns 2009

Let’s get real about health care coverage

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that health care reform is in trouble.  The insurance industry is a powerful group and very clever at blowing smoke to hide the real issues. For instance, there is a commercial running on TV in which we hear a voice over from a woman purporting to be Canadian. She says she had a brain tumor and, because Canada has government health care coverage, she was told she’d have to wait six months for a medical appointment. So, she intones in a very solemn voice, she came to America and received immediate treatment from the best health care system in the world.

Quite a story, one that clearly shows the inadequacies of a government run health care system – except that intelligent examination of this ad shows it to be blowing large puffs of smoke all over the place.

No one I know disputes the extremely high quality of health care available in this country. Health care reform is not about the quality of health care being delivered. It’s about making that health care accessible and affordable to people who need it.

In the ad, the woman announces she comes to America and gets the care she needs. What she doesn’t mention is who paid for it. Because we all know someone did. We also all know that she did not get private insurance to cover her tumor. Because if she tried to buy coverage after she was sick, her tumor would have come under the dreaded “pre-existing condition” mantle. Sorry, Miss Canada. Pre-existing conditions are not covered. Maybe you should take up residence here and see if you can qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. They don’t deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Oh, that’s right, you don’t like government run health care plans.

Are there legitimate concerns about health care reform?  Of course there are. And paying for it is the biggest.  But there should be no debate at all over whether it should happen and whether we should remove health care coverage from the realm of only the employed, especially now that an increasing number of businesses can no longer afford to offer it as a benefit to their employees.

When I hear opponents of health care reform talk about the nightmare of bureaucracy it will create, I always wait in vain for them to give me their alternative idea for how to provide coverage for the uninsured. They never do. They simply draw insane looking charts purporting to represent a government health care bureaucracy run amok – an extremely detailed chart, may I add, given that the program doesn’t yet exist.

So I throw this challenge out to all those who think a government run health care insurance program is a bigger nightmare than the return of the welfare mother driving to collect her government dole in her shiny new Cadillac. What is your option? How would you insure that America no longer stood alone as the only first world nation left on earth that does not provide health care coverage in some form to its citizens? And please, at least pretend to make it a realistic plan. Because tax credits don’t count when you barely make enough to pay taxes.  And unless you know of a health insurance plan that is a big secret to the rest of us, an extra thousand a year in tax relief will barely pay for two months of minimally adequate coverage for an individual, let alone a family.

Do you really want to see the recession end? See capitalism and rugged individualism reassert itself? See small entrepreneurs taking a risk on start up companies based on a wonderful idea they have? Then give people affordable health insurance not tied to their job so they can contemplate quitting their current job and taking a chance on their dream. It’s not something people are going to do if they know that by doing so they expose themselves and their families to the potential disaster of a major illness with no coverage because they left that behind with their job.

So capitalists of the world, unite. Government sponsored health care for all will allow the dreams of small capitalists across this country to be realized. What greater opportunity could you ask your government to give you?