I went to a meeting of the Health Access Coalition today in Raleigh. The coalition is a group of organizations seeking to get health care for all Americans.
We're a diverse group with diverse opinions. There were some single-payer-system advocates who were truly angry about the idea being rejected out of hand by Congress. They were passionate about it being the best way to accomplish universal access to care.
That may be true -- studies have said it is -- but we tried the my-way-or-no-way thing 16 years ago and got nothing. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have died from lack of access to care.
I agree they should be allowed at the table. But they can't be inflexible. I brought that up and mentioned that my child was one of 30,000 who died last year because they couldn't get access to care.
All I require of a system is that all people have access to quality affordable health care. And by affordable, I don't mean sky-high premiums to private insurance companies.
I do have a preference. I support the public plan as much as I support the US Postal Service. It's the same thing.
Although the Postal Service has its flaws, it still is the least expensive way to send mail, and it is as reliable as any of the more expensive private companies.
That's what I want to see with health care. If people want the public plan, they can choose it. If they want a private plan, they can choose that. I don't think reform will succeed without it.
But if we can put together true reform with true affordability and real access without a public plan, I can live with that -- and so can 30,000 people a year.
Just days after a so-called "watershed moment " (President Obama's words, not mine), the people who promised to cut costs by 1.5 percent a year for the next 10 years, thus saving the country $2 trillion, have backed off.
"There's been a lot of misunderstanding that has caused a lot of consternation among our members," Richard J. Umbdenstock, the president of the American Hospital Association, said today. "I've spent the better part of the last three days trying to deal with it."
He said the promise was for a gradual cut and that the groups never promised a specific amout per year.
Funny, but I recall the announcement, and it said 1.5 percent per year and $2 trillion. Nobody quibbled with that until Umbdenstock had time to talk to his cronies on the phone and discovered they didn't want to make such lofty projections.
Another reason not to trust the medical-industrial complex with reform.
Several people have told me they're afraid of health care rationing if the government gets involved in fixing the system.
In fact, rationing is one of the words Frank Luntz has said will work to derail meaningful reform.
"You're not going to get what you want," he told conservatives, "but you can kill what they're trying to do."
So, the question really becomes: What do you think we have now?
Care is rationed to the wealthy and to people who are lucky enough to have adequate insurance coverage.
Mike was a victim of rationing. He couldn't get access to the care he needed to save his life. He was one of 30,000 people who died last year as a direct result of the health care rationing we have now.
The rationing that happens in other countries is mostly a longer wait for elective surgery. So, if I have to wait for a boob job behind someone with breast cancer, that's rationing.
If I have to wait a couple of months for a hip replacement because people who have bone cancer need treatment before I get it, I'm OK with that.
Actually, a study a couple of years ago found that people in our country's single-payer Medicare system waited less time for joint-replacement surgery than did people in Canada's single-payer system.
So, what's worse, the rationing we have now that kills 30,000 people a year, or a longer wait for elective surgery? I'll wait for that knee, thank you.
The health care industry has sait it can cut costs 1.5 percent a year for 10 years, thus saving $2 trillion.
My question is: Why couldn't they do it before they were threatened with reform?
The answer, I assume, is that they didn't think they had to.
Now they're afraid their profits will fall by a lot more than 1.5 percent if true reform passes.
Now, I've been a newspaper reporter for more than a quarter century. I was writing about this crisis for 15 years before it took my son's life. I suspect the worst from these corporate giants.
My prediction is that they want to look reasonable now, and then when Congress tries real reform they can oppose it and say, "Look, we tried to come halfway ..."
I don't trust them. Not for a minute.
Reform is NOT a done deal. We can't assume it is. We must keep pushing our representatives in federal government to do the right thing. We must be louder than the lobbyists for the medical-industrial complex or we won't get meaningful reform.
Pollster Frank Luntz has published a memo to Republicans telling them what language to use in killing efforts at federal health care reform.
He advises people to ask, "Do you want bureaucrats to make decisions on your health care?"
My answer to that is another question: Who do you think is making the decisions now?
Answer: Some insurance company executive with a masters degree in business administration.
The memo goes on to tell people how to defuse words like "crisis." Never deny there's a crisis. Talk about "delayed" health care being a crisis.
Well, under the current system, the delay from the system as it is now killed my child. Yup, delayed treatment, which is what millions of uninsured people experience right now, is a crisis.
Delayed treatment, which tens of thousands of people experience as they're caught up in the two-year waiting period between getting their disability checks (which they wait an average of three years for) and becoming eligible for Medicare, is indeed a crisis.
The system needs fixing. Don't let yourself be fooled by people who say it doesn't.
Your physician and you should decide the course of treatment, not some comfortable executive or some government bureaucrat. But to be honest, I trust the government more than I do the insurance industry. I know others don't feel the same way.
Will health care be rationed if the system is reformed? I don't know, but it certainly is rationed now. If you have insurance, if you have money, treatment is available. If you're one of the nearly 50 million people who aren't fortunate enough to have one or the other, you don't get care.
Tell your representatives in the federal government you want reform, and you want everyone at the table -- even the people whose solution isn't the same as yours.
What we want is access to quality health care for everyone. How we get there is still up in the air, but we MUST get there.
There are a lot of industry lobbyists out there who want things to stay the way they are, and they're willing to make big campaign contributions to get their way.
We have the power of the vote. Let's remind them of that.
From Kathy Squires: "My niece, who worked all of her adult life and was very independent, became ill at her last job under which she had no insurance. (Sound familiar?) She delayed seeking health care, and when she finally agreed to some help she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer (called GIST) with a 17 cm tumor, and it metastisized and is now inoperable. It is in numerous places in her body. She is such a lovely girl and is handling this unbelievably well!
"She felt sick after taking a pill for a while (that they neglected to tell her was chemotherapy). She stopped taking it. She is feeling OK for the moment and wants to remain feeling OK. She finally got Medicaid for her health care, and will receive SS Disability in July. She will have lived for 8 months by then with either no income, or the $6XX a month from SSI which kicked in recently. Needless to say, our extended family has pitched in to help her keep her little house, and her car. Jeanne served in the Military (National Guard), but has not received any help from them, so far. "Besides Jeanne being my niece, and us being close, this is another example of someone who "always had" insurance and never used it. Now her job didn't offer it and she did without. The ripple effect of having no insurance and therefore being unable to address her symptoms is horrific. My family has always been fortunate that Mike's job has had us covered and we are able to address any health issues at all. Besides Jeanne having this illness, even when she was able to receive Medicaid she was not treated well by the two Oncologists who agreed to see her. They were condescending because she was unable to pay. Yes, I know the reimbursement for Medicaid is pitifully low. But human kindness costs nothing.
I got a call from a panicky woman the other day, not knowing what to do about her mother, who is 53 years old, very ill and has lost her health care.
Once I calmed her down a little, I got the story. Her mother finally got Social Security Disability three years after she stopped working because of serious vascular problems and other health issues.
A few days after her first check arrived, she got another letter saying her Medicaid was cut off because her income from disability put her $39 over the income limit.
The letter said she will be eligible for Medicare in two years.
It's a little glitch in the system that leaves thousands and thousands of people who can't work because of a health problem without any access to health care.
Elizabeth Lunsford, who I met yesterday, has stopped taking some of her medications because she can't afford them. She needs a heart catheterization and a bone density test. She also needs a colonoscopy because her first one found pre-cancerous polyps and she should have one every year.
But she can't afford any of it because of a little-known law that makes people wait five months after approval to get their first disability check and another 24 months after that to become eligible for Medicare.
Part of the reason this happens is because Medicaid -- the federal insurance plan that covers people with little or no income -- has lagged behind cost-of-living increases by the Social Security System.
Historically, disability income was below the threshhold for Medicaid eligibility, but because Medicaid is administered by the states, it's up to them to set income eligibility and they haven't kept the same pace as disability benefits.
Now, most people get less than $1,000 a month in disability. If they have a spouse who's working and insured, the two-year gap isn't a huge problem.
Nor do people who have never been able to work for whatever reason.
But people like Elizabeth, who has worked hard all her life, sometimes 16 hours or more a day to provide for her family, get left without any health care for two years.
Elizabeth's daughter, Angel Taylor, doesn't have a computer so she can search for help for her mother. The only thing she could think of to do was to call the newspaper.
There are bills before Congress now to eliminate the two-year gap; most people don't know why it was put there in the first place.
But no one is really pushing the bills. I guess they're hoping it will get fixed when health care reform comes up.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Lunsford and tens of thousands of others are waiting, without access to health care for their serious health problems. Many will die. Unless something changes, Elizabeth likely will be one of them.