Saturday, July 17, 2004

Kerry on Health Care

The next chapter of Kerry's book, "The Challenge of Creating a Modern Health-Care System," begins with this comment;
...For those who can afford it we have the best health-care system in the world.  But we are the only major industrialized country that does not guarantee every citizen, regardless of income, access to affordable health care...
 -A Call to Service
, p. 123
This brought to mind something I read in Harpers this morning.  It was the transcript of a forum entitled  "Liberalism Regained; Building the next progressive majority."  The specific quote is from Ron Daniels, who was the former director of the National Rainbow Coalition in 1987, an independent candidate for president in 1992 and the current executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights;

We need a transformative vision, one advancing the notion that America can be more than it is today for average, ordinary people.  The Democratic Party should advocate a program of basic rights, like the ones enjoyed by many social democratic countries in Europe.  Americans really feel that they have the best standard of living in the world.  They don't, but they don't know that they don't.  Virtually every nation in Western Europe has universal health care.  In Sweden, Norway, and Holland, the social benefits are so generous that poverty has been practically eliminated.  Wages in most European countries now outpace wages in the United States.
, August 2004, p. 33.

My life experience suggests that this is not extremist talk. In my younger years, when I was trying to raise a family on $300 a week, my children and my wife were denied health care more than once because of our inability to pay. The only option we had was to go to the emergency room, which not only increased the costs, but was an improper use of those facilities. Even later, with health insurance, the high deductible meant that my family could not access proper health care because we could not afford it. Insurance offered us protection in case of a catastrophic emergency, but little else. Surely the wealthiest nation in the world can do better than this?

Here is Kerry's summary of his health care plan;

- All Americans will have access to the same health-care coverage that their members of Congress has today.

- A commitment to work until every American has affordable health insurance-starting with a plan that covers 99 percent of children and 96 percent of all Americans.

-Contain soaring health-care costs by making prescription drugs more affordable, getting rid of frivolous lawsuits, reducing uncompensated care, and giving affordable health-care choices.

-Relief to employers who offer affordable coverage to their employees by covering a portion of their highest cost cases.

-Save costs by cutting bureaucracy; that cuts nearly $350 billion a year out of the health-care system.
-A Call
, pp. 142-143.
Kerry is proposing a mixture of private and public health insurance, to avoid a "one size fits all" health care system. I don't see how this will work. From my perspective, the insurance companies are the problem, as making a profit is their bottom line. To quote Jim Wallis, "a system based on profit cannot address the issues of injustice and inequality in this world." To provide a just health-care system, the insurance companies have to be removed from the equation.

But, if John Kerry can deliver on his promise of a health-care plan that will immediately cover 99 percent of our children and 96 percent of all Americans, I'll support it. I want to see how high the deductible is on these plans, though. It may be hard for many of the middle and upper class to understand this, but a $500 deductible (or even a 20% co-pay) will cause many families to have no access to medical treatment for anything other than extreme emergencies. A plan that includes a high deductible or co-pay feature would be unacceptable, as it would not address the day to day health care needs of the poor.


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