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American Health Care is Sick and Needs a Remedy

An epidemic of for-profit health care hurts the most marginalized members of society

When I was 19, my mother, always known for her big heart, was told by doctors her heart was too big--It was dangerously enlarged.

A woman who had struggled through single motherhood to join the Airforce, become an RN and overcome adversities facing women and Native Americans in 1970's Arkanasas was now a welfare recepient. Too poor to stay on the heart transplant list, she was forced into hospice care.

This was my introduction to the state of health care in America. We have the best health care in the world--for those who can afford it.

Unfortunately my mother couldn't, and she paid the ultimate price because she couldn't afford not to. She died in the month of May, a decade ago. I was 20-years-old.

Her death was also my introduction into the disenfanchised people of America, consisting of veterans, minorities and women and their children.

Whether due to a lack of insurance, social inequities or the inability to afford good care, the most marginalized people in society aren’t getting treated equally, or getting treatment. Period.

The problem is America pays twice as much for health care as other comparable countries yet ranks 37th worldwide, an unsettling designation revealed in a World Health Organization report from 2000. That puts us far below not just our European counterparts like France (#1) and Sweden (#23), but also well below countries like Greece, Iceland, Colombia and Morroco, leaving us sandwiched between Costa Rica and Slovenia in the list of 190 countries.

Not only do we pay too much money for subpar care, about 50 million non-elderly Americans currently have no access to health insurance, a staggering figure released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010.  

Some 45,000 Americans die each year because they lack insurance coverage, said Wendell Potter, an executive at Cigna health insurance for 20 years before turning into an advocate for health care reform. He also stated on his self-titled website that 2010 will go down as one of the most profitable years for the five biggest for-profit health insurers.

According to a WHO report from 2010, a disproportionate amount of individuals with low-quality or no insurance coverage are minorities and women, who are especially vulnerable in the current war on reproductive health care, which includes life-saving cancer screenings, mammograms and pap smears.

Obvious Disparity in Health Care

Maternal mortality in the U.S. has been rising steadily for two decades and has reached an all-time high. Rates of infant mortality among blacks are more than double the rates for whites both state and nationwide, with a national average of 13.4 deaths per 1,000 African-American infants, compared to just 5.7 deaths per 1000 births of Caucasian infants, based on data available at statehealthfacts.org.

In California, the rates depict a similar disparity but are lower than the national average, with 11.2 black infant deaths for every 4.7 white infant deaths.

No matter how one looks at it, there is a obvious disparity in health care, and its not just affecting the uninsured.

Last October, a free, four-day health clinic in which more than 800 doctors participated drew almost 5,000 Angelenos in need of dental, vision, medical and reproductive health care. Many of these individuals were insured.

More recently, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that San Gabriel Valley area health centers would receive $7.5 million to help thousands of uninsured, immigrants and patients, who otherwise couldn't afford proper care.

So obviously the problem isn’t just getting everybody insured, it’s that our health care system’s reliance on privatized insurance coverage itself is flawed due to the unequal care provided to people based on their economic status. Universal Health Care is an obvious remedy.

However, getting Universal Health Care in the current political climate seems impossible without the support of Republicans.

Historically, Republicans have supported now so-called liberal policies of environmental reform and women’s issues.

The Clean Air Act and Violence Against Women Act received bipartisan support in the past, yet both are now under attack by Republican members of government as “liberal” policies. But health care is not a red or blue issue; it's an American issue.

Just imagine that no one is denied cancer treatments due to a pre-existing condition, where families don't have to decide between college for their children or surgery, where women have access to family planning regardless of living in a “blue” or “red” state, where life or death issues aren't a for-profit business.

It's easy to picture a government-run system because it would be similar to the way police departments, schools and various other institutions are already run. You don't have to worry about paying the officer who arrives at your house before she/he arrests the robber.

Now picture living in a country like Sweden, with health coverage for all, a nation rated as the number one country to live in the world for women and a worldwide leader in maternity and paternity leave by the WHO.

Now picture living in a country that--like some conservatives and libertarians are pushing for--have few or no social services in place for their people, because that is where we are heading without health care reform.  

Countries like that are mostly found in Africa, where the huge majority of people are suffering while a few aristocratic leaders bask in riches and wealth. Or in Mexico, where some of the richest people in the world reside, while impoverished citizens flock north to an unwelcoming, increasingly hostile land.

Health care in America is neither healthy nor caring. I know if my mother, as a nurse, were alive today to see the state of health care, it would break her heart. But then again, it already did. I just hope my son and future generations won't have to choose between going into debt and getting care, or worse.

If everyone followed their heart in this matter, the solution should be easy to see--in any country that is considered truly great, health care should be a universal human right, no matter what political party one belongs to. We all need to come together to heal a sick system and alleviate the suffering of every American, regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status.

To remain a great nation, we can't afford not to.

Kevin Feeney May 07, 2012 at 03:36 PM
As with most people that trust in "universal" healthcare your view is far too simplistic. In the other nations you mention most citizens pay very high taxes, in our country the majority of citizens pay little or no income tax, that added to a very high number of illegal immigrants that also pay no taxes if we were to have your image of universal healthcare we would have to tax those that currently pay very high taxes so much it would bankrupt all but Bill Gates. What we need is extreme healthcare reform, more medical schools (no new ones in the last 50 years) more levels of care takers(nurse practitioners etc.) With more access points prices will go down. Also much more competition and access to alternative care providers. There are a number of physician groups in the US that now have office visits and other services for cash prices, that are much less than those offered if you also go through an insurance company. So while your very simplistic view of universal healthcare is appealing to those currently with no access it is not practical, and would put us even further into deficit. And those currently on govt. health care are turned down for treatment at a higher rate already than those on private insurance, with us all on the govt rolls that rate would only go up, just look at England and Canada. Govt. health care is not the answer, more competition is, it's simple it works like any other commodity.
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