Friday, April 02, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Yes We Can

Recently I participated in a virtual town hall meeting led by my Congressperson, Representative Bilbray. The phone-based town hall consists of constituents listening in and posing questions or bringing up issues. Bilbray also asked us to choose our top-priority issue out of five possible topics. I chose Issue Number Two, health care reform as my number one issue. Among the choices was, of course, immigration reform. (I say ‘of course’ because Bilbray always brings up immigration reform; indeed, that was the mainstay of his successful election campaign.) Immigration reform is an important topic in southern California.

I stayed on the line listening to questions posed by constituents. A woman in her forties was concerned about health care costs. I know. I am self-employed and have paid for my own health insurance for years. Health insurance is a large portion of our monthly expenses, our deductable is quite high, and it goes up every year. But Bilbray does not support health care reform. (Actually, he claims that he does. He supports letting you purchase your health insurance across state lines.)

A retired nurse came on the line next. She complained that illegal aliens appeared in large numbers in emergency rooms with sniffles and fevers, looking for medical care. “When are we going to stop providing medical services for illegals? I go in there and see so many Mexican people.” I was shocked at the obvious racism of this woman and Bilbray’s response (I am paraphrasing). “The problem is that the federal government has mandated that hospital emergency rooms must provide medical services to anyone, regardless of whether they can pay or not and regardless of his or her citizenship.” This is true for emergency medical care, but not for non-emergency medical care. How can someone in the medical profession embrace the concept of denying medical treatment to anyone? Aren’t we all people? Where is your compassion, woman? As I listened on the phone, I wondered where the humanity had gone. Do we need immigration reform? Yes! Should immigration reform begin by denying emergency medical care to illegal immigrants? No! First of all, as an emergency room attendant, can you imagine denying coverage to a dying patient (regardless of her citizenship) because she can’t produce papers proving her status? Do you carry your birth certificate or passport with you at all times? Oh, I’m sorry. Perhaps you’re not worried about that because you aren’t Mexican American? When I hung up the phone I was saddened that the solution to health care reform should be dumped on illegal immigration.

I have called Bilbray’s office numerous times as a constituent asking him to support health care reform. He doesn’t think that the government is capable of providing effective health care. He thinks the American health care system is basically just fine the way it is.

What’s wrong with the Canadian system? They spend less on health care, have a higher life expectancy, have less uninsured people, and are healthier.

Here is some data from a recent (2007) study. (Peterson, Chris L. and Burton, Rachel, Domestic Social Policy Division. Congressional Research Service: U.S. Health Care Spending: Comparison with Other OECD Countries. September 17, 2007.)

The United States spends more money on health care than any other country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD consists of 30 democracies, most of which are considered the most economically advanced countries in the world. According to OECD data, the United States spent $6,102 per capita on health care in 2004 — more than double the OECD average and 19.9% more than Luxembourg, the second-highest spending country. In 2004, 15.3% of the U.S. economy was devoted to health care, compared with 8.9% in the average OECD country and 11.6% in second-placed Switzerland.

How does the U.S. life expectancy compare to these countries?

The average life expectancy for a person in the United States is 77 ½ years — slightly below the OECD average, and 4½ years less than top-rated Japan. Life expectancy is nearly 2½ years longer in Canada than in the United States. The United States is ranked 22nd out of 30 countries on life expectancy at birth, but once people reach the age of 65, U.S. life expectancy improves to a rank of 11th for men and 13th for women out of 30 countries reporting.

I, for one, am glad that Congress passed health care reform. I am glad insurance companies can’t deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. I am glad that if I get sick, my insurance company can’t cancel my policy. Maybe now some of these people flocking to the emergency rooms for non-emergency situations will be able to get health care and go see a primary care doctor instead of an emergency room physician.

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