Health care: Our families deserve better
GM's recent decision to eliminate 30,000 jobs was blamed, in part on the cost of health insurance, which, GM says, is making the company uncompetitive with manufacturing elsewhere in the world. GM isn't the only one -- health care premiums are rising five times as fast as other payroll expenses, and the issue has been the biggest sticking point in labor-management negotiations around the country.
Our current health care system is clearly a drag on the economy. But it gets much more personal than that. As a parent, I know what it means to have a seriously ill child. I have been fortunate to have health insurance that covers my kids for most of their lives, but 9 million American children are not so lucky; a total of about 45 million Americans of all ages have no coverage, and even among those who do, many find needed health care unaffordable.
Now columnists from Los Angeles to New York are asking the obvious question. If the employer-provided health care system isn't working, why not do what most of the rest of the industrialized world does and try universal single-payer health care?
Some complain that the Canadian-style system requires people to wait for elective surgery. But Saul Friedman, in a column in Newsday, points out that an estimated 18,000 people die in the U.S. each year because they are uninsured, and children who enter the hospital without insurance are twice as likely to die as those who don't.
And the battle over who pays for each item on the health care bill adds tremendous cost to an already over-burdened system. Friedman cites economist Paul Krugman's estimate that 25 percent of health care costs can be attributed to administrative costs -- figuring who does and doesn't get what coverage, and profits. And we spend more per capita, and as a percent of our GDP, than does any other country; yet 41 countries do better than we do on infant mortality, 34 do better on life expectancy, and 45 million Americans have no coverage at all.
We are paying more and getting less.
The good news is that there are grassroots campaigns around the country making headway on universal coverage. The Universal Health Care Action Network lists organizations in 33 states working on health care reform. The American Medical Students Association website also is tracking health care reform -- it is not only patients that suffer; doctors and nurses are experiencing high rates of burn out from the current system. California especially stands out; a Canadian-style single-payer health care bill passed the State Senate and the State Assembly Health Committee, and will be taken up by the full Assembly in 2006.
Leadership, so lacking at the national level, is bubbling up from the grassroots. As more states enact policies that work, a sane national system is bound to follow. Businesses could breathe a sigh of relief as health care coverage would no longer be a rapidly inflating cost of doing business and the center of contention with employees. American families could be relieved of a major cause of bankruptcy (50 percent of those filing for bankruptcy did so at least partly because of medical expenses), and we would no longer have to fear being turned away at the clinic door. Is that too much for the citizens of one of the world's wealthiest countries to expect?