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 V.16 No.30 | July 26 - August 1, 2007 

Ortiz y Pino

The War on Health Care

Why Gov. Richardson needs to switch sides

The Iraq Occupation’s casualties are coming home. And besides the physical and emotional injuries brought back by the troops from their deployment, the nation itself is beginning to realize the extent of the damage wrought by this debacle on our economy and on our citizens’ well-being.

This week the president told Congress he’d veto any effort to expand (or even to fully reauthorize) the S-Chip program, a funding source most states have been using to provide health care to millions of children who would otherwise go unserved.

Apparently flushing 12 billion dollars a month away in Iraq leaves us too poor to continue a basic health program for kids here at home. This raises the question, “Which of the two expenditures does more for our real national security?”

Health care for all Americans has been on my mind ever since I watched SiCKO. Apparently Michael Moore’s film has shoved the sad state of America’s medical insurance system to the top of a lot of other people’s agendas, too. Last Tuesday, 300 Albuquerqueans showed up on a muggy summer evening for a panel discussion on health care reform at a Northeast Heights church.

We fanned ourselves feverishly with some of the printed materials handed out at the entrance as the temperature in the tightly packed room climbed steadily and the air cooling system proved inadequate to the task. But most of those in attendance stayed for the entire two-hour discussion sponsored by the Health Care for All Campaign.

And it wasn't entertainment value that held us there. The information shared was important, not thrilling. No fancy effects, music or dramatics were employed, just a straight-forward presentation of material gleaned from a study of health care reform plans for New Mexico ordered up by the Legislature.

Still, the event did have an emotional highlight. It came when a speaker cautioned those in attendance that the prospects for true reform of our health care system were dimmed significantly by a pronouncement from Gov. Richardson that he would never approve any measure that didn’t include a role for private insurance. The chorus of boos, hisses and angry shouts that greeted this statement was immediate and deafening.

Speculation afterward on why Richardson would have made such an unpopular public statement at a point in the process far, far before he needed to take any position on it at all (to say nothing about it also being in the midst of an uphill campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination) ranged from the cynical to the outright libelous.

Clearly, it is a stance he might want to reconsider, as no other issue likely to come up in the campaign would be as effective in propelling him up into the top tier of racehorses as would an enthusiastic endorsement of single-payer health care.

Neither Obama nor Clinton has adopted that position and if Richardson wanted to capture the hearts of undecided voters, advocating for universal health care (not “coverage”) would be the shortest route to that goal. It would also have the side benefit of pushing this topic fully into the spotlight of national debate.

So far only Dennis Kucinich among the announced candidates has espoused universal, single-payer health care. But he has not to date managed to attract enough money or support to join the so-called “upper tier” of candidates … a place Richardson is on the verge of reaching.

But our governor is quoted by his health care advisor, Michelle Welby, as believing that the 80 percent of New Mexicans who have health coverage are “happy with the current system,” so he won't likely want to end the blood leech role played in our current health financing system by our legion of private insurers.

That is, unless he begins to listen to the thousands who have coverage but who are desperately unhappy with it--citizens like Pam Parker, a businesswoman in Taos, who tearfully detailed for a Legislative Committee last week how her eight-year struggle with breast cancer has left her family financially devastated because her insurer raises the premiums and deductibles annually so that she now pays $1,500 a month … for a policy with a $5,000 deductible. She doesn’t dare switch as her health history makes her essentially uninsurable by any company other than the one she has now.

Of course, that’s what SiCKO is all about: not the 20 percent of our people who are uncovered but the unhappy experiences of the 80 percent who do have insurance. Bill Richardson ought to watch Moore’s movie before proclaiming that private insurance must have a role in any health care reform effort.

Alternatively, he might want to read volume two of Bill Clinton’s autobiography, The Presidential Years. On page 142 he could read why Clinton tried so hard to change our health care system (though he ultimately failed).

“Three out of four Americans had policies with lifetime limits on benefits, meaning they could lose their insurance just when they needed it most (and) the premiums paid by small businessmen are 35 percent higher than those paid by large businesses and government … all these problems were rooted in one fundamental fact: we had a crazy quilt of coverage in which insurance companies called the shots.”

The only thing that’s changed since Clinton was elected is that things have gotten worse. Oh yeah, and insurance companies are more profitable than ever. The War over Health Care will soon be bigger news than the War in Iraq. Gov. Richardson needs to switch sides.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail jerry@alibi.com.

 

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