Waiting for the health care vote

March 21, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Posted in health, politics straight up | Leave a comment
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UPDATE (11:00 p.m.): Congratulations, America — you might not have universal health care but you now have reforms enacted into law which will make it slightly less likely you will die an early death on a street corner. Here’s the vote.

* * *

Children awaiting health clinic doctor on recreation pier, N.Y.C., probably around 1908. (Library of Congress)

It’s 12:30 p.m. as I sit down to write this. The final vote is expected to start at 6 p.m. Will Americans finally begin to get health care reform?

Rightfully, it should be called health care insurance reform, which is not really the same as true health care reform, but it’s the closest we have come in over 100 years to providing Americans with Life, Liberty and the ability to pursue Happiness.

Our Founders understood “general welfare” to mean “health, happiness, or prosperity; well-being.”

Every other advanced country but ours has some form of universal health care, whether through a publicly-funded system, like Canada, or a program of national health insurance, like Germany. There is ample proof available of which systems work better.

In 1960 health care spending in the United States was 5.2 percent of GDP. Today it is over 16 percent. Canada, which has single-payer health care, spends 10 percent of GDP.

Doctor treats patient's eye (a minor burn) at the clinic at the FSA (Farm Security Administration) labor camp. Caldwell, Idaho. The doctor holds clinic twice a week, a nurse lives at the camp and is always available. 1941 June. Russell Lee, photographer (Library of Congress)

Why? Because we have not treated health care as a basic human right, like clean water, sewers and education.

One of the complaints I have heard far too often is that there will be a shortage of doctors if everyone has access to health care.

Are they serious? Do they not understand what they are saying? People who make this complaint are essentially advocating for a rationing of care based on ability to pay. In other words, if you do not have an extra $10,000 or more a year, you do not deserve to live, much less pursue happiness unless you give up your liberty and receive medical care in prison.

In addition to reorganizing the way health care is paid for, the cost of training doctors and nurses must also be addressed. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average educational debt of indebted graduates of the class of 2009 is $156,456. The high cost of a medical education means we don’t have as many doctors as we could have or need. It precludes many otherwise qualified people and creates a disincentive for those who do become doctors to practice primary-care instead of a specialist in a more financially lucrative area.

Calipatria, Imperial Valley. Visiting public health doctor conducts well-baby clinic in local school building adjacent to pea harvest. Many migratory mothers attend. 1939 Februray (Library of Congress)

Hospitals are laying off staff and closing because they are treating so many people who cannot pay and do not have insurance.

In 1977 President Jimmy Carter attempted health care reform. He recognized that ever increasing health costs were going to be an ever increasing problem and proposed “[phasing] in a workable program of national health insurance.” Unfortunately, he told the truth, that “the cost of any national health insurance program the Administration and the Congress will develop will double in just five years,” and Congress got cold feet.

But as we know, Americans spend literally twice as much today, as a percentage of the GDP, on health care than we did in 1977.

It is enormously disappointing to find I live in a country where so many people feel that their fellow citizens are not deserving of what our Founders thought their countrymen universally deserving.

UPDATE: Watch live-stream on C-Span.

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