American news outlets have bombarded us with health care horror stories. They’ve reported on the problem, emphasizing the overwhelming complexities, but not too much on real solutions. We know the problems exist because very few of us haven’t experienced, either directly or through someone we know, the stresses and strains of finding and keeping our medical insurance. And even if we have been spared from being uninsured, many know the shock of discovering that what you thought would be covered isn’t. Many know the obstacles to seeing a doctor when we need to. And statistics show that enormous numbers of Americans are drowning in medical bills for relatively minor conditions, or bankrupted by chronic or catastrophic illness.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Health care is a right, not a privilege.” It’s one that’s been around for a long time. I first heard it in 1974 when I volunteered as a patient advocate at a Free Clinic in Tucson, Arizona. The founders of this small, community-based non-profit clinic built it on this philosophy. It was part of a movement to assure that anyone and everyone could visit a doctor, regardless of their ability to pay. It delivered “patient-centered care” before those words became a marketing slogan. And it truly was free. No one received a bill. Patients were merely informed that, if they wished, they could leave a donation in one of the envelopes by the door.
The clinic ran general medical and multiple specialty clinics throughout the week on an annual budget under $100,000. With the help of a small paid staff and over 100 volunteer physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and trained patient advocates, all were welcomed. In time, I graduated from a volunteer position to that of director, looking after budgeting, fundraising, and community relations. We were a diverse and impassioned group of people believing we were on the cutting edge of change. Now, forty-four years later, our nation is still wrestling with how to make medical care accessible and affordable to all.
Remember when health care was at the top of the agenda for the Clinton Administration? That was in the early 90’s. But their efforts failed to get enough political traction to produce reforms with the necessary braking power to control continually rising costs, increasing the financial burden on individuals and the nation, as a whole.
Next came the George W. Bush era, so preoccupied with wars in the Middle East that domestic issues, including the growing health care crisis, was kicked, like the proverbial can, further down the road.
The Affordable Care Act, sometimes called President Obama’s “signature achievement”, came about only after what felt like eons of Congressional wrangling that eventuated in legislation so watered-down at final passage that it was never really bound for success — never “tweaked” as promised, or promoted enough to see if it could really work. So here we are, with a health care system that resembles a coastal community after the typhoon — a heart-breaking disaster with thousands of lives ravaged. It’s time to face it. Our profit-driven health care system is on the brink of collapse.
Now we are at another juncture on this long and winding road toward change — the 2018 mid-term election. Never in my life have I witnessed such fervent engagement over the issues as I see today. And no doubt about it, the health care crisis is one of the top concerns driving people to the polls. Recently, I’ve attended several candidate “meet and greets” and debates. When the issue of universal health care is raised, candidates tend to take a safe stance, admitting that we need change but reluctant to commit to a plan. Ordinary citizens are showing up and sharing their stories of big bills for poor care, statistics that validate their personal experiences, and examples of how other countries are conquering their health care crises. The power of these ordinary citizens is what has pushed our national health care debate to a new level.
On Wednesday, Oct. 10, Health Care For All-MN and the DFL MN 03 Senate Organizing Unit will host a forum, free and open to the public, on the benefits of a “universal single-payer” health care system. This option, designed to deliver affordable and accessible health care to all, has been successfully tested by many countries with varied economic systems, some very similar to our own. The forum is meant to give people here in the northland an opportunity to amp up their understanding and support for a common sense solution to our health care crisis.
The data show that the U.S. ranks #1 in the world for the highest percentage of our Gross Domestic Product siphoned of to pay for health care. It also shows us ranking a deplorable #19 compared to other developed nations on nearly all major health care indicators. This reflects an embarrassing failure of our private insurance based model, one that is becoming less accessible to growing numbers of Americans. It’s time we get information that helps us see through the smokescreens of myth and misconception, and begin to respect that the rest of the industrialized world, so greatly outranking us in health care outcomes, cannot all be wrong!
Come to Vermilion Community College Lecture Hall in Ely, Wednesday, Oct. 10 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to learn more. Share refreshments with friends and your neighbors. And meet your candidate for Congress. You’ll be inspired to hear about what we can do to make our health care system work better for everyone, without driving so many people into poverty.
Health care is a right, not a privilege! I believed it in 1974. And I still believe it now, because people’s lives and livelihoods depend upon it. Let’s hope change is right around the corner!