Have you seen them yet? I'm talking about the television ads trying to convince Americans that we do not need health-care reform and attempting to tell us that any kind of government option for health care will be unaffordable and will rob us of our health-care choices.
If you haven't seen them, you will soon enough. The insurance, hospital, and pharmaceutical industries have set aside an estimated $200 million for lobbying, campaign contributions, and advertising — especially television advertising — against any serious effort to fix this nation's sick health-care system.
Across the country, more than half of all personal bankruptcies are the result of medical expenses. According to a recent Washington Post report, there is a sharp increase in the number of patients who fail to keep appointments and decreases in preventive care visits in recent months. Some doctors have started quizzing their patients about their fiscal, as well as their physical, health. They are selectively trimming their fees for some patients and working out alternative means of payment with others. We may be returning to the day when poor rural patients paid their doctors with chickens and hams and firewood.
This is the condition of health care in America today. The country that thinks of itself as the greatest at everything is, in fact, ranked 37th in the quality of its health care by the World Health Organization. The country that has pioneered most of the cutting edge medical technology and pharmaceuticals in the last century has not developed a means to distribute these blessings to its own people. Hence, some 45 million Americans have no health insurance. The vast majority of us are under-insured — one serious illness or accident away from bankruptcy.
President Obama says the time for change is now, and he is proposing an insurance plan with a government option. Details are not worked out yet, but in one form or another it seems to promise that Americans may sign up for national health insurance if they feel that they are not getting what they need from private insurers. Republicans and their corporate sponsors have sworn to fight it to the bloody end and have warned Obama not to offer a government option in any health-care plan. (Notice how the party of "personal choice" in all other public matters will have none of it here.)
Around the nation Americans are mobilizing for health-care reform. In Charleston County the effort is being directed by Dr. Peter Kfoury, a chiropractor for 31 years and chairman of the health-care committee for the Charleston Continue the Change Action Group. Kfoury understands the urgency of health-care reform, but like most health care activists in the area, he is not satisfied with the Obama plan.
Kfoury and his allies want nothing less than a single-payer system, which all other industrial democracies have in one form or another. Obama has said that any health-care reform must accomplish three things: control cost, guarantee availability for all, and guarantee quality of care.
"Those are the goals of any good health system," Kfoury said, "but the only way they can be achieved is through single-payer. Without single-payer, we are wasting our time."
Of course, what that means is that the federal government becomes the single-payer for health care in America and the multi-billion dollar health insurance industry would essentially be put out of business.
One way to achieve single-payer is to give people an affordable, reliable government insurance option. In time, the market would migrate to government health insurance. That's why the insurance industry will never agree to a public insurance plan. That's what the $200 million war chest is for.
"Insurance drives up the cost of everything," Kfoury said. "Doctors and facilities will charge whatever the market will bear. Insurance companies will pay it, and the premiums go up until people and companies can no longer afford them ... Health care has become a huge drag on our national economy."
Indeed, health care is the reason so much of our industry is no longer competitive in world markets. Nearly a third of the cost of a new car goes to pay for the health insurance of autoworkers.
So far, single-payer advocates have not been allowed at the table in Senate negotiations, Kfoury said. He and his fellow single-payer supporters are lining up behind House Bill 676, aka the Conyers-Kucinich Bill. H.R. 676 is also endorsed by more than 14,000 doctors, according to Physicians for a National Health Program.
The great American health-care battle has already begun, and it will affect how we live and do business for the rest of our lives.
Learn more about the health-care battle and how you can get involved at Will Moredock's blog: charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.