Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fixing health care in this country

Health care in the U.S., as a system, is broken. Does this mean that you or I can no longer get coverage? No. This means that the system as a whole, costs too much with relation to the services that it provides. The price is high beyond justification.

Paul Krugman has written many articles on this topic. One of the latest makes a bogeyman out of health savings accounts, as created in 2003 by the Bush Administration:

"In practice, the health savings accounts created by the 2003 Medicare law will serve primarily as tax shelters for the wealthy. But let's put justified cynicism about Bush administration policies aside: is giving individuals responsibility for their own health spending really the answer to rising costs? No."

Personally, I'm on the fence about this. I would like for my naturopath to be my primary care physician, but my health plan does not allow this. Perhaps a personal health savings account would allow me to pay for my naturopathic visits using my pre-tax health care benefit, rather than having to pay for most of it out of pocket. If I'm misunderstanding the nature of this benefit or how I might be able to use it, I'd like to know.

In another article, Krugman writes:

"Several readers have asked me a good question: we rely on free markets to deliver most goods and services, so why shouldn't we do the same thing for health care? Some correspondents were belligerent, others honestly curious. Either way, they deserve an answer."

This is the one to read for a really good argument for nationalizing our national health care system. Incidentally, Oregon's former governor John Kitzhaber, a former medical-room physician from Roseburg, OR, has presented a plan for Oregon as a state to do exactly that. He's calling it the Archimedes Movement:

...and he's posted a manifesto there, one that does a good job, over 10 pages, of outlining the problem with the U.S. health care system, and intimating what the shape of the ultimate solution might look like. In case you fear that this might be dry reading, here's a quote from near the end:

"Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve today’s problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” That is true. But I think that Edward Abbey -- the late Western novelist -- put it more succinctly, if not as eloquently when he said: “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up you get a lot of scum on the top.”

The manifesto, entitled Road to Revolution, is at:

So, let me close this blog post by quoting directly from Kitzhaber's manifesto, in fact, his closing statement:

Let me close with the words of Oregon poet Kim Stafford who eloquently defines the
challenge, the opportunity – and, indeed, the responsibility -- that lies before us in what he calls “Lloyd’s Story.” Lloyd Reynolds, the international citizen of Portland, spent his last days in pain, silent, unable to speak or to write, lying in his hospital bed. On his last day at home, as his wife scurried to pack his suitcase for the hospital, Lloyd made his way outside to the garden and there she found him on his knees, with a spoon, awkwardly planting flower bulbs. “Lloyd,” she said, “you will never see these flowers bloom.”

He smiled at her. “They are not for me,” he said, “they are for you. The salmon
coming home? They are for you. The calls of the wild geese? They are for you. The
last old trees? They are for you and your children, to the seventh generation and
beyond. They are all blooming into being for you.”

That is our challenge today. To plant the seeds of tomorrow; to change the world by
acting, by leading, by personally reengaging in this struggle -- not as victims of the status quo, but as architects of a new future.


Garlynn Woodsong said...

follow-up: According to the NY Times, the AFL-CIO is now calling for universal health care coverage:

The New York Times
January 18, 2006
Labor Federation Calls for Universal Health Coverage

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 - John J. Sweeney, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, called on Congress today to enact universal health insurance and to bar American companies from selling goods produced overseas under sweatshop conditions.

In the labor federation's strongest call yet for universal health coverage, Mr. Sweeney said, "We need a simple national health care plan that covers everybody - the failure of Bush's complicated Medicare prescription drug benefit demonstrates that."

Mr. Sweeney said the health system was badly broken because it has left 45 million Americans uninsured and had undercut the competitiveness of American corporations by saddling them with soaring health costs.

As part of his push to improve health coverage, Mr. Sweeney said the nation's unions would push in 30 states for legislation like that enacted last week in Maryland requiring large corporations to pay a specific percentage of their payroll toward health insurance.

Speaking at the National Press Club in what was widely billed as a major address, Mr. Sweeney said it was a particularly difficult time for American workers. He pointed to stagnating wages, declining pensions and the loss of three million manufacturing jobs in recent years and denounced what he called, "the senseless slaughter of the good American job," asserting that American corporations were seeking "to compete in the global marketplace by degrading work and workers, rather than competing through ingenuity."

While bemoaning the split in the labor movement, Mr. Sweeney did not pin any of the blame for workers' problems on the nation's unions, which represent just 7.9 percent of private-sector workers, down from 35 percent a half century ago.

He said workers were being hurt by the corporate wave of sending jobs overseas and by trade agreements that contain few worker protections. Taking a position that many corporate critics deride as protectionist, Mr. Sweeney said: "Corporations can't just be allowed to sail their plant or their production on a barge to another country where they can get the cheapest possible deal, where they can exploit workers with child labor and forced labor. They have to be held accountable. They have to show how they're going to protect workers as well as their businesses."

With Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Mr. Sweeney acknowledged that his proposals might not fare well in Congress. He called for Congress to enact large-scale lobbying reform as well as a law that would make it easier for workers to unionize. He also recommended raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from its current $5.15, saying such a move would lift the pay of seven million Americans.

He predicted that the Democrats would take back the House and Senate next November, but he warned that organized labor might not endorse some Democrats.

"I think that we have to hold the Democrats accountable," he said. "They just can't assume that the labor movement is going to be 1,000 percent for the Democratic candidates unless they are committed to solving the problems that are so important to American workers."

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.