I recently watched a documentary on Alcatraz, its origins and early years. I was struck by the comment of one of its former inmates who was being interviewed for the documentary. “There are four basic rights in prison….the right to food, water, shelter, and medical care. Everything else was a privilege” he said.
Now as you read this, I must tell you that I am a conservative. I am not an advocate of massive social programs, and I think people should work and make their way. I do not believe in the “dole” except for that very small number of our population who are mentally or physically unable to care for themselves, HOWEVER….
I don’t think anyone would quarrel with the fact that the United States is the last superpower on earth. Certainly not the only power, but the last real superpower. The only power who can, if necessary, stand alone against all others and still likely achieve its goal, whatever that may be.
We boast the strongest, largest and best equipped military on the planet, the highest per capita standard of living for our citizen’s, the best opportunities to achieve one’s goals, and many other “bests” and “brightests”. And the most important, of course, we have the highest and best sense of personal freedoms and our citizens are most protective of those freedoms.
All those things said, this best and brightest country is not without serious internal problems which scream to be addressed. I’m not even going to mention those important issues such as terrorism with its attendant sub-problems, energy production and conservation, and the environment. I’m not even going to talk about animal rights which, for those who know me, realize that what I am going to talk about must be serious indeed for me to leave that out.
In this land of 200,000,000 plus persons, more than 45,000,000 (im no math genius but that inches up on 25%), are uninsured (and does not include any veterans because veterans are eligible for heathcare through the veterans administration). Now that doesn’t mean those people are all precluded from getting their basic health care needs met, because a portion of those 45,000,000 persons are eligible for either state aid (medicaid), or federal benefits (medicare), and other assistance programs which means they can seek at least the most basic health care.
But a GROWING number of those 45,000,000 are comprised of the self employed or small business owner to whom private medical insurance premiums are cost prohibitive; the unemployed (or part time employed) who do not qualify for group benefits of former or present employers at a cost which is reasonable and affordable, or those labor for employers who do not offer group medical benefits to its employees. So what do those people do?
I’ll tell you what they do. They may visit a community doc in the box (primacare or other freestanding facility), or a private doctor for relatively minor illnesses which they can pay for out of pocket (because demonstrating one’s ability to pay is clarified up front when one doesn’t have insurance benefits). If they are injured or experience a trauma, they have the option of being treated at a county hospital supported by the community tax base, but they cannot get ongoing treatment for a chronic condition or catastrophic illness unless they can demonstrate that they live below the poverty level and can qualifiy for state aid so the facility can be paid by the state or federal government. Most just ride out their illnesses and pray to God that nothing serious or catastrophic befalls them, because if it does, they are screwed.
Now let us assume a person has worked in the labor force and paid social security and fica (income taxes – some in quite suprising amounts) for most of his or her adult life but is uninsured, and then contracts a serious or catastrophic illness. He or she is unable to work, but also has too many assets to qualify for aid from one of a number of sources. After unemployment runs out (assuming he wasn’t self employed), he or she applies for social security disability because of his or her inability to work. One of the requirements to qualify for such disability payments is a recent (within 12 months) set of medical records substantiating the illness or disability, including ekg’s, mri, ct scans, biopsies, exploratory surgeries, rehabilitation records, and physicians and hospital records. He or she cannot amass such records without paying for them upfront which in most cases means an out of pocket expenditure of between $5,000.00 and $25,000.00, which many people don’t have, or would have to liquidate their home or all their assets to acquire. They are denied the assistance because they can’t afford to “prove” the disability. It is the worst form of Catch-22.
Long before this became an issue I actively championed, I documented horror stories from regular, hardworking people, who faced these problems. If we can spend billions of dollars on aid to other countries, to rebuild and bring the necessary changes required to give them the most basic quality of life, then we have to address the healthcare of our own citizens. To fail in that, would be the most heinous mistake.
This country can be the world’s farmer, the world’s protector, the world’s eco-guard, the world’s technological leader, the world’s banker, the world’s watchdog over human rights, and every other “world” class cornerstone. It must solve the problem of healthcare for at least 25% of its own citizens before it can afford to be the end all to the world community.
We have the best corporate minds, the brightest think tanks, the most adept trouble shooters, and supposedly, the most righteous motives, right here in the United States. We solve problems of WORLD magnitude all the time. It has been tried, but the insurance lobby was too strong to even seriously discuss real change. We, the people, are responsible for the ultimate disposition of this issue. Insurance companies have a right to make a reasonable profit, doctors have a right to be paid, but people have a basic right to health care. That isn’t true everywhere on earth, but by God it is true in this country, and if it isn’t, it should be. One should not have to get sentenced to “The Rock” in order to claim this basic right.