HR 676--a bill in Congress for National Health Insurance
It comes as no surprise to most people that our health care system is in crisis. Many of us have our own health care horror stories, either as one of the 46 million Americans without insurance (10 million of whom are children), as a senior citizen trying to negotiate through an unnecessarily complicated prescription drug plan, or even as one of the "lucky" insured who struggle with restrictions, co-pays, and yearly increases in premiums.
Some of us even know that, despite the mantra that the U.S. is number 1, when it comes to health care, we're actually number 37 -- at least according to the World Health Organization. It could be the lower life expectancies, the higher infant mortality rates, or the fact that wait times for needed medical care are actually higher here than in Canada. It is no coincidence that we also happen to be the only industrialized nation in the world without a national health care system.
Interestingly, a growing number of conservatives and financial experts are taking note as well. Health care expenditures consume an insane 16.5% of our Gross Domestic Product, and that number is expected to grow to 20% by 2015. Tying health care to our jobs cripples us on the international market -- GM spends $1500 of the cost of every car on health care benefits, an expense that foreign markets with national health care systems don't have. Insurance companies spend so much money trying to deny claims and preserve profits, that we actually end up spending twice as much per person on health care as other industrialized nations -- and those other nations cover EVERYBODY.
Polls and headlines continue to show an increasing amount of interest in a national health care system for the United States -- among patients, physicians, even small business owners. It would save lives, provide equitable health care for everyone, and it makes good financial sense -- to the tune of 1.1 trillion dollars over the first 10 years. Even Fox News recently reported on emergency room doctors calling for a single-payer universal health plan to solve the severe deterioration of emergency care in our country. In a shocking (for Fox) pro-government, anti-corporate statement, the article points out that government programs operate with less overhead (3% for Medicare) than private plans designed to make profits and satisfy stockholders (20-30% overhead).
So if Fox News, corporate America, and a majority of Americans are ready to talk about a national health care system, why hasn't it happened yet? Why do politicians and even progressives continue to say, "It's a great idea, but it will never happen?" What are we waiting for? What will it take for people to have the courage and conviction to demand the health care system that our nation, citizens, and economy so desperately need?
How about a plan?
How about a bill before Congress right now calling for a single-payer national health care system that would cover all Americans, with unrestricted choice of doctors and hospitals, with no co-pays, no premiums, and no deductibles?
The bill is called H.R.676 -- Representative John Conyers' National Health Insurance Act. It currently has 68 other Congressional co-sponsors (including Florida's Representatives Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings, and Robert Wexler) and has been endorsed by hundreds of unions, major cities, and community organizations.
Under this system, if anyone gets sick, they simply take out their card, pick their doctor and get all medically necessary care for free. If anyone gets a debilitating illness or injury, they aren't forced to keep working through the illness just to keep their health insurance, because all Americans would be insured from cradle to grave.
By eliminating the role of insurance companies and HMO's (and the unnecessary waste and profit built into the current system), we would be able to cover everyone without having to spend more money. In fact, 95% of families would pay less under H.R. 676 than we're currently paying in premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses! At the same time we would gain coverage for many things not covered or incompletely covered by our current job-based insurance, such as prescription drugs, dental care, long term care, and mental health services.
There are other important economic impacts for the country. Malpractice rates for doctors would be lower because you don't need to fight over who will pay for health care -- everyone is covered. Auto insurance rates would go down because medical costs for everyone are covered. Up to half of all personal bankruptcies would be eliminated because medical bills are a thing of the past. One of the leading causes of poverty would be eliminated.
Certainly, it's not just defeatist attitudes and pessimism holding us back. The health insurance industry now outspends the gun and tobacco industries in lobbying, and it is clear that they are getting their money's worth. They keep citizens and politicians wary of an allegedly nightmarish Canadian-style system and an ineffective government medical program. And they will fight H.R.676 to the bitter end.
However, we have to fight them with the truth. The truth is that Canadians love their health care system. The truth is that the government-operated V.A. medical system in the U.S. surpasses the private sector in medical quality and customer satisfaction. And the truth is that Americans want a national health care system. We just have to get them to believe that it's possible. We have to let them know about H.R.676.
Around the country unions, community groups and concerned citizens have been doing just this by organizing "Citizen Congressional Hearings" on the health care crisis. These hearings, coordinated by Healthcare-NOW, are giving citizens the chance to testify both about how the health insurance crisis has affected them and what they want Congress to do about it: Pass H.R.676. Joel Segal, a senior staffer with Rep. John Conyers, said recently that the Citizen Congressional Hearings have been instrumental in moving several more members of Congress to sign on to H.R.676.
Over 80 cities have held or scheduled Citizen Congressional Hearing, and Gainesville now joins this growing list. Our hearing is scheduled for Saturday, July 8th, from 9:30 to 12:30, at the Thelma Bolton Center (516 N.E. 2nd Ave). Rep. Corrine Brown, Rep. Cliff Stearns, and Rep. John Conyers have all been invited to receive testimony.
The hearing is free and open to the public, and any resident is welcome to testify about his or her own health insurance and health care experiences. All testimony will be recorded to send to Congress, and a booth will be set up for taping testimony in case time runs out. While residents can sign up to testify at the hearing itself, those interested in testifying are encouraged to fill out a "Health Care Survey" available from the Alachua County Labor Party website at www.floridalaborparty.org/alachua.
Some of the things that Alachua County residents will be testifying about are:
The hearing and the survey have been organized by a Congressional Hearing Organizing Committee that includes the Alachua County Labor Party, the North Central Florida Central Labor Council, Gainesville Area National Organization for Women (NOW), Alachua County NAACP, Graduate Assistants United, Physicians for a National Health Program, Gainesville Women's Liberation, the Health Care is a Human Right Coalition, and the United Faculty of Florida.
For more information, to volunteer, or to add your organization as a co-sponsor of the hearing, please call the Labor Party office at 375-2832 or email markpfloridalaborparty.org.
Chad Hood, M.D., is on the board of the Alachua County Labor Party and Physicians for a National Health Program.
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