Thursday, July 17, 2008

America's Health Care Crisis

Cross Posted to Clintonistas for Obama

Instead of being ignored, one of my pet issues has become a proverbial Third Rail of this election cycle. It has become one of a small core of issues that candidates will live or die by. However, to many of the candidates, this issue will only be important in the abstract. For myself, and millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans, this issue is not abstract ... it's an unfortunate part of life. For many of us, affordable health care is just out of reach.

Let me preface by saying I work as a Contractor for one of the largest Technical Staffing firms in the continental US. As an employee, I am offered medical coverage, which would be best characterized as ineffective. In short, the plan covers office visits at a decent co-pay . . . but that’s about it.

I’m not used to this low level of coverage. Having been in the IT field for the past decade, I’ve been accustomed to having a compensation package that includes a decent medical plan. I’m not used to having to pay retail for prescriptions. It’s a rather humbling experience when you work 40 hours per week at what most would consider a good wage, and still cannot afford your medicines. And while I’ve got a good job, having a long-term chronic condition has really opened my eyes to how the uninsured live.

It makes me wonder how we, as Americans, can allow so many of our fellow citizens to live in these deplorable conditions. We, as a society, allow our elderly to go without care due to the cost. We, as one of the richest economies, watch our children grow up without the preventive care that they so desperately need. And yet our elected representatives choose to debate rather than act. This is an issue that transcends partisanship, ethnic background, economic status, truly all the concepts we use to call each other different. This issue hits at the core of what makes us all the same … we are ALL part of this rock we call Earth, and blessed enough to be part of the idea that is America.

I’ve always mulled about this issue, but have not been very outspoken. That changed the other night when I went to karaoke at a venue here in Sacramento. I spent a few minutes talking to Alice, one of the best bartenders in the city, about this issue. She spoke of the cost of her health care, and how it’s almost too expensive for her to afford. She also lamented that her out-of-pocket costs would increase later this year as she turns 50.

She floated an idea to me that I found amazingly simple, and yet a way we can begin to effect change. I’d like to float that idea here, and hear feedback from everyone as to their impressions.

Alice’s idea was simple – to mandate that Doctors of all stripes be required to give 2-3 days per year to treating the masses. Her concept is to have health fairs in communities large and small where these doctors give away their services. As long as a financial need is demonstrated, no-one would be turned away due to the inability to pay. This would take some of the strain off the public health clinics and the Emergency Rooms, which are grossly overtaxed. This would help insure that everyone has access to quality health care at a potentially lower cost to the taxpayer. And this would ensure that we are keeping our promise to our children to give them better than we got.

Her idea is an idea of first impression, as she saw a documentary about Doctors Without Borders and thought it would be an idea that would help Americans with the health care crisis. I agree with her that it would at least help improve the situation, even if in a small way.

If nothing else, however, we need to raise the level of public debate on this issue. We need to find creative solutions coming from government, NGO’s, CBO’s and FBO’s alike to better serve the needs of our entire population. And we need to impress on our legislatures, both state and federal, that this is an issue that needs to get pulled out of the muck. We need to shed our partisan blinders and take up a truly inclusive stance. We need to come together to solve one of the toughest social issues of our day.

Just my 2 Cents – comments and suggestions welcome!


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