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Sick, Sick, Sick. Health Care in America

__180x200_healthcare.jpgDorene, a cancer survivor in Oregon, can’t afford health insurance, so she takes part in what she calls "faith-based health care"—she prays she won’t get sick.

Barbara’s son spent a year in Iraq after enlisting in the National Guard. It was the only way he could get health insurance for his wife.

In New York, Antonius can’t afford health care and never sees a doctor. And if he gets a serious illness?

I couldn’t get care—I would just have to die—in the richest country in the world, with great health care, I’d have no help. Does that seem right?

Unfortunately, many politicians would not answer "No" to Antonius’ question. So in January, we at the AFL-CIO, in partnership with our community affiliate, Working America, launched an online health care survey to encourage people to tell their stories and provide data that we plan to present to 2008 candidates at all levels. Over seven weeks, more than 26,000 people took the survey (and it was long), and nearly 7,500, like Dorene, Barbara and Antonius, took time to describe their personal experiences with the U.S. health care system. (You can read the results and the stories here.)

Thanks to everyone at the Lake who took the survey and passed it on after I blogged it here.

Here are a few findings.

  • Most who responded are college educated, have jobs and insurance—but many STILL can’t get the care they need or can afford.
  • One-third report skipping medical care because of cost, and a quarter had serious problems paying for the care they needed.
  • 71 percent of the insured worry about losing coverage because they may lose or change jobs.
  • 95 percent say America’s health care system needs fundamental change or to be completely rebuilt. 
  • In the past year, 76 percent of people who lack insurance themselves and 71 percent of people with uninsured children say someone in their family did not visit a doctor when sick because of cost.
  • 57 percent of the uninsured and 61 percent of people with uninsured children had to choose between paying for medical care or prescriptions and other essential needs (such as the rent or mortgage and utilities).

Many people who wrote in had experienced the health care systems of Canada, Great Britain, France or Sweden—and say, by comparison, the U.S. system stinks. Their firsthand experiences are a stark contrast to the media noise machine that repeats ad nauseum (pun intended) how lucky we are in this country not to suffer through state-backed health care systems where we would—gasp—wait in line for care. Like what planet without HMOs do those writers live on?

Oh, yeah, we have a great health care system all right. So well-functioning, that a recent Urban Institute analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found that some 22,000 people died in 2006 because they didn’t have health care coverage.

So how will Republican presidential candidate John McCain address the crisis? His health care "plan" would tax our health benefits, undermining existing employer-based health care and pushing workers into the private market to fight big insurance companies on their own—all the while failing to cut costs or cover more people. McCain’s plan would ensure big insurance companies are free to weed out people with health care needs, charge excessive premiums and limit benefits.

Kinda like the failed Bush health care plan. Kinda McSame.

Many union members work as nurses or other health care providers, and those who wrote in are appalled at what passes for a health care system in this nation. And then there’s Lisa, a physician in Seattle, whose "simple wishes of a physician" put in perspective the ethical bottom line of reforming health care in America. 

As a physician, I have simple wishes for our health care system. I would like to be able to care for all comers on equal footing, regardless of their socioeconomic status. I should not have to decide on a "second best" option, because a patient does not have health insurance, or because their insurer is unreasonable. I do my best to provide cost-effective, high-quality, evidence-based medicine. I consider each patient as an individual first, while also considering public health implications of my decisions.

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Tula Connell

Tula Connell

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