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Paging Dr. Paul: The Sickness Is in the System
Posted on Oct 19, 2011
Health care is not a human right, Dr. Paul empathically states on his website. He’s an anti-abortion, former OB-GYN who advocates for the rights of every fertilized egg but not for the right to medical care for fully realized human beings. Hippocratic oath? What’s that?
Paul’s prescription for the millions of uninsured is to leave health care to the magic and mayhem of the market—and if you go bankrupt, it’s your own fault. And bankrupt Americans go. In the United States, the leading cause of bankruptcy is the inability to pay medical bills. It’s so Ron Paul.
Letting people slip between the cracks is actually official health policy in the United States. According to a Harvard study, 45,000 people die every year because they lack access to health care and medicine. Kyle Willis, a 24-year-old Ohio man, is one such casualty. An ER doctor prescribed pain medication and antibiotics to treat his tooth infection, but Willis couldn’t afford both prescriptions. The antibiotic was more expensive so he bought the pain pills. The infection spread to his brain and killed him. Americans die like this every day—it’s just not front page news.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau report found that there are 49.9 million uninsured, but that’s a serious undercount. The report counts anyone who was insured for any part of the year as being insured, but thousands of people lose coverage throughout the year. With job layoffs accelerating—some 120,000 U.S. postal workers are currently facing the ax—the number of uninsured is set to increase. In times of economic crisis with high rates of unemployment, it’s painfully evident how linking health coverage to a full-time job is a disaster.
The suffering of the uninsured was on full display when Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit organization that provides free health care, set up a clinic at Malcolm X College in Chicago this summer. Wherever Remote Area Medical goes, thousands of uninsured line up to receive care, but thousands are turned away. In President Obama’s home state of Illinois, more than 2 million are uninsured. Hundreds of people with sleeping bags camped overnight at the college to get medical, dental and vision care. Patients were registered in a wide corridor, a classroom was set up with rows of dental chairs, and pap smears were done in private staff offices in the basement.
Janice Kelly, a middle-aged African-American woman, arrived at 3 a.m. and joined 60 other people in line. Kelly lost Medicaid coverage in 1998 when she started working part time. The right side of her face was swollen from having three teeth extracted. She had calculated that it cost $125 to have each tooth pulled, plus money for X-rays. It was money she didn’t have. For a year, Kelly treated the tooth pain with Orajel and Advil.
Remote Area Medical provided health care to 2,000 people over three days, the vast majority of whom were poor and black with little hope of finding jobs or affordable health coverage. Every person I interviewed, including a leading physician and one of the main event organizers, believed that health care was a human right and was in favor of a system run by the government. They wanted “Medicare for all.” Kelly said, “Just like they have in Canada and Europe. … It’s something everyone needs because sooner or later we’re all going to get sick and need some help. No one should be denied.” For more than a decade, poll after poll has shown that a majority of Americans support a government-run health program that covers everyone. And in a sea change of attitude, a majority of doctors, fed up with private insurers’ interference with medical decisions, support single-payer plans. Once again, the political consciousness of the public is far ahead of party-minded politicians who live and breathe deep inside the D.C. Beltway infested with thousands of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists.
In 2003, then-Sen. Obama supported the single-payer idea. He said at a labor conference, “I happen to be a proponent of a single payer, universal health care program. … I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. A single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. … First we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”
Obama got all three wishes, but as president he broke his promise to single-payer advocates, locked them out of health care reform discussions, and passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a piece of legislation so ridiculously inadequate in resolving the health care crisis it’s bound to go down in history as one of the cruelest jokes ever played on the American people. The act is a 2,000-page laughable tract written by the insurance industry for the insurance industry. It leaves 23 million uninsured, denies undocumented immigrants health coverage, doesn’t cover abortion unless women pay separately, and mandates that the uninsured buy expensive, high deductible, high co-pay health plans via complicated state insurance exchanges or face a financial penalty. Medicaid is under bipartisan assault and hundreds of thousands of recipients have been cut off and benefits reduced to decrease state budget deficits. The Democrats are proposing $72 billion in federal cuts to the program. The act expands the Medicaid program to cover an additional 26 million people, but does anyone believe the federal government will still pay the entire cost for the expansion as promised? And how can Medicaid expand to absorb the millions who will be eligible for coverage in three years if it is continually being downsized?
Who else is making bank? That would be health insurance industry CEOs and stockholders, who in the midst of one of the deepest recessions have pocketed record profits. America’s top five health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 percent for a combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, the same year that 2.7 million people lost their private health insurance.
They’re laughing all the way to Wall Street—stuffed with taxpayer money—while people die.
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