Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, CA for February 21 2008
(the following was scheduled for run in The Bay News for Feb 14, but was shuffled over to run in the Feb 21 edition.)
Coming so near to Super Election Tuesday, it was a perfect storm of images. First up was a Tribune exclusive report on local hospitals having to pick up the tab for “less fortunate” folks in need of medical care. On the front page was a picture of a 40 year-old auto mechanic who was admitted to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center with chest pains. The 40 year-old auto mechanic didn’t have health insurance.
Two thoughts went through my head: That’s not a minimum wage job. How is it possible that a 40-year old auto mechanic isn’t participating in some sort of insurance program? Then I thought: Only in America. If this man lived in Canada, England, France, Norway or one of hundreds of “first world countries,” this wouldn’t be a story, let alone a front page story. In Canada, 40 year-old men go into the hospital with blocked arteries all the time. They get treatment. They go home. No story.
The next day I was flipping through the latest Time magazine and came upon several full-page ads paid for by the American Medical Association, with ad copy that included this: “47 million uninsured. It’s not just a number or a graph in a report. . . . One out of seven of us doesn’t have health insurance, but we all have access to a voting booth. Please vote with this issue in mind. . . . . ”
The AMA is now urging people to vote for some kind of national health insurance coverage? THE AMA? Fifty years ago, when this country, like dozens of other first-world, “civilized” countries, had an opportunity to craft a national health program, it was the AMA that helped lead the charge to stop any such effort. The plans were branded “socialized medicine,” and declared to be a Commie plot to destroy America. Frightened of “Commies,” Americans left themselves to the tender mercies of private, for-profit Insurance Companies. And now, way too late, here’s the AMA urging voters to do something to fix the mess they helped to create?
Even more interesting, Time also noted that,” 44% of GOP voters favor the government guaranteeing universal health insurance, even it means a tax increase, says a November 2007 Pew Research poll.” GOP voters favoring a tax increase AND the AMA urging a national health program? Strange bedfellows, indeed.
Which begs some questions: It has been common knowledge that Americans get the least bang for their health-care bucks of all “first world” countries. Instead of having a system of universal, “Medicare-for-All,” pro-active, easily accessible, affordable “Wellness Clinics” to catch and treat disease early, we decided (with a lot of help from the AMA and the insurance companies’ various scary “Harry & Louise” advertising campaigns) to approach our national health as if it were a for-profit Las Vegas crap shoot instead of a personal and societal responsibility: Pay little or nothing, then pray that the dice don’t come up bad. And if they do, stick the Other Guy with the bill.
Even sillier, in order to avoid that old Commie menace, “socialized medicine,” we opted for a system that too often results in the most expensive, wasteful treatment in the world: Using emergency rooms as a primary care center. Hence, the front page story of a 40 year-old mechanic with no health insurance in an emergency room for hideously expensive surgical treatment of a heart condition that could have been caught and successfully treated far cheaper with diet and medication at a national health-care “Wellness Clinic” years ago.
With the upcoming presidential election, the issue is clearly on the table again. But this time, will enough Americans will be smart enough to see through the scare tactics to ask: Is health care a “right” we wish to give ourselves? Is a healthy citizenry a worthwhile Value of the Commons that we all need to pay for, along with decent roads, schools, parks and bridges? Is it something that makes our whole society better able to function competitively in the world? Or is the fiscal health and bottom-line profits of drug and insurance companies more important?
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” said Barack Obama to a cheering crowd on election night. We’ll surely know if that’s true come this November.