Thursday, October 1, 2009

Health Care Is A Human Right

Today I am inspired by a recent editorial by New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, in which he eloquently (and not for the first time) makes the case for the so-called “public option” in our nation’s pending health care reform legislation. Mr. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, are the Pulitzer prize winning authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I will have more to say about this book in a future post.

Kristof and WuDunn are human rights advocates. In the Times piece, Kristof offers a common sense argument for expansive health care coverage for all Americans:

“Throughout the industrialized world, there are a handful of these areas where governments fill needs better than free markets: fire protection, police work, education, postal service, libraries, health care. The United States goes along with this international trend in every area but one: health care.

The truth is that government, for all its flaws, manages to do some things right, so that today few people doubt the wisdom of public police or firefighters. And the government has a particularly good record in medical care”.

He cites both Medicare and the Veterans Administration as examples of efficient, effective and highly rated government-run health care systems. Kristof continues by gently pointing out the most regressive and egregious problem with our current system:

“But the biggest weakness of private industry is not inefficiency but unfairness. The business model of private insurance has become, in part, to collect premiums from healthy people and reject those likely to get sick — or, if they start out healthy and then get sick, to find a way to cancel their coverage.”

In plain English, the current paradigm can only be described as criminal. Any business that financially benefits from withholding medical care from people who need it, refusing to insure those who are already ill (those pesky pre-existing conditions), or canceling coverage for people who have the audacity to get injured or sick is corrupt, anti-democratic and cynical to the core.

The health insurance industry (backed up to a great extent by the for-profit health care providers and the giant pharmaceutical companies) is engaged in a life-or-death battle to ensure that their morally indefensible business model is preserved. So its no wonder that they will use any means at their disposal to save themselves and protect their billions in profits pilfered from the American populace.

Exhibit A: Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. According the NY Times,

“Mr. Baucus has successfully strong-armed several lobbying groups into muting their criticism of his health care legislation, part of a concerted strategy of reassuring [health insurance industry] interest groups. Even as Mr. Baucus has tamped down criticism, he has continued collecting campaign contributions from industry interests, including drug companies and insurers.”

This week, Chairman Baucus presided over a committee that produced a health care bill that is “an absolute gift” to the insurance industry, according to Wendell Potter, who went on to say that “the bill might as well be called the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act." You can read the full article HERE.

Mr. Potter, by the way, is a man who knows the industry from the inside. He enjoyed a nearly 20- year career as the chief public relations representative for Humana and Cigna, two of our nation’s largest health insurance companies. After a crisis of conscience in 2007, Wendell Potter is now a senior fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy. He is putting his intimate knowledge of the health insurance industry’s insidious PR strategies to good use combating the misinformation being fed to and spouted by the opponents of substantial health care reform. Here’s his pithy decoding of the arguments being used by these folks to pummel health care reform:

“whenever you hear a politician or pundit use the term "government-run health care" and warn that the creation of a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers (or heaven forbid, a single-payer system like the one Canada has) will "lead us down the path to socialism," know that the original source of the sound bite most likely was some flack like I used to be.”

I highly recommend that you read the text of a speech Potter recently gave, called How Corporate PR Works to Kill Health Care Reform

...or watch this excellent video:

The battle over health care reform should not be about politics, federal deficits, ideology, “creeping socialism”, or anything other than the simple fact that, as human beings, each of us deserves access to excellent, affordable health care. It is not a privilege, it is a basic human right. This right is not only guaranteed by our constitution but is also an essential part of what it means to stand for liberty and justice for all.

The ongoing public debate often conflates health care reform and health insurance reform. This country must have the kind of reform that will provide equal access to health care for all Americans, regardless of the consequences for the health insurance industry. The days of the hegemony of business interests over the needs of people must end. Americans of all political persuasions, ethnicities, geographical locations, ages, sexual orientations etc need to come together on this. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be bullied, fooled or coerced into accepting a health care policy that doesn’t address the real needs of ALL of us.

Here is a video in which Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, explains the “public option” and debunks the idiotic criticism coming from the health insurance companies:

I have to add a hearty thank you to the public figures who are standing up for justice with regard to health care for all. This list is not inclusive, but these people are heroes in my book:

Quentin Young, M.D., physician, human rights activist, strong proponent of a single payer health care system

Michael Moore, filmmaker, whose film Sicko has galvanized millions of Americans to improve health care in the U. S.

Representative John Conyers, author of H.R. 676, legislation that would establish a single-payer, Medicare for all type of system.

T. R. Reid, author of The Healing of America

Senator Dennis Kucinich, tireless champion of a single payer healthcare system

Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, presidential candidate who crusades for the interests of real people over those of large corporations

Wendell Potter, former Cigna exec now working tirelessly for a better solution to our healthcare crisis

Nick Krystof, author and NY Times columnist who is helping shape public opinion using facts and high ethical standards