Friday, August 21, 2009

Isn't America supposed to be the land that guarantees basic human rights?

I have a friend, a very elderly man, who is now blind, has diabetes, two hearing aids, and poor circulation. He receives his healthcare for all these ailments free through the Veteran's Administration, since he served four years of non-combat military service back in the 50s. He believes, however, that if these same health care benefits were extended to the rest of US citizens, that the government intends to institute "death panels" and kill off the disabled and elderly. When I point out to him that he is in fact receiving single payer government health care, and it would have been expedient for them to have bumped him off a few decades ago - he says he "earned" his VA care with his military service, that it is "paid for."

I point out that his four years of service half a century ago in no way paid for the tens of thousands of dollars of services he's received in his old age, and that I'm the one paying for his healthcare - me and all the other taxpayers in this country. His VA healthcare is just like medicare or medicaid, strictly pay as you go. (Just like the social security that he also receives, of course). None the less, neither the VA nor Social Security has tried to kill him off as being "unworthy" of healthcare and not "socially productive" enough for old-age benefits. Yet he continues to believe the right-wing lies. And the hypocrisy of his position is entirely lost on him. Unfortunately, he is not alone.

Jerusalem Post
Aug 18, 2009 20:48 | Updated Aug 19, 2009 16:12
The US health care debate

As Israelis observe Americans debate universal healthcare, we find ourselves struck by the fact that our little country is actually more advanced than the US in providing all residents with medical coverage. But we take no pleasure in the realization that political discourse in the US has sometimes deteriorated to the crude levels too often seen in Israel...

...Yet even without universal coverage, America has a budget deficit of $1.8 trillion and spends twice the average share of its gross domestic product - 16 percent - on health as Israel...

...Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin claims the president is intent on setting up "death panels" of government bureaucrats empowered to determine whether disabled or elderly Americans are "worthy of healthcare."

WHAT explains such vituperative language? Part of the answer is that America's political culture abhors a concentration of power in any one branch of government out of a visceral fear, dating back to the founding fathers, of tyranny.

Moreover, as with all Big Lies, there is a kernel of truth to the implicit charge that universal healthcare will not provide unlimited care, forever, under all circumstances.

On the other hand, those who now have private insurance live under those same constraints, and those who have no insurance have no protection at all. All plans - commercial, governmental or hybrid - "ration" healthcare...

...Visiting a family doctor here [Israel] tends to be a no-frills affair. Care is generally of a high standard, but there are no stylish offices or solicitous receptionists. You hand the physician your magnetic card; there's a minimum of small talk; you're treated and quickly out the door.

Israelis belong to one of four health funds, equivalent to HMOs: Clalit, Maccabi, Meuhedet and Leumit. Your GP does not oversee your care during hospitalization. There may be a wait for elective procedures.

But hospitalizations and medications are fully covered, though most people also purchase supplementary health insurance from their health fund and some take out additional private insurance coverage.

Everyone is covered. We pay for it all through individual sliding-scale health taxes deducted from our salaries and transferred to the health funds via the National Insurance Institute.

It may well be that a modified version of our system could work well in the American setting.

It may be, but Americans are not likely to ever get the same basic human right to healthcare that citizens of all the other first world nations enjoy. The reason the US spends twice as much as Israel per capita for healthcare is very simple - profit.

The doctor isn't on a salary, he has to make a profit on each procedure he performs. Ditto for the hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and medical equipment providers - not to mention the multi-million dollar compensation packages for the CEO and officers of these businesses. And then the insurance company gets their cut - multi Billions-with-a-B this time in compensation packages for CEOs and officers, plus profits to their shareholders in the forms of dividends and rising stock prices.

Take away all that, and viola - healthcare in the US would cost half what it does now, easily. And everyone would actually receive care - imagine that!

Right now, the US Government GAO has this graph on its website:

The CDC has this graph showing the US has embarrassing infant mortality rates as well:

In the face of these rather galling evidences that the US does NOT in fact have the "best health care in the world" as many right-wingers continue to claim, there is now a movement wherein right-wingers write articles attempting to rationalize away these facts by saying they aren't indicative of the quality of a country's healthcare.

But they are.

Our nation severely rations healthcare to pregnant women by failing to provide hundreds of thousands of pregnant women with any type of health insurance or care. And our mortality rates clearly show the effect of for-profit health insurance dropping people from their rolls who need expensive treatments and capping the "lifetime" expenditures for various severe long-term illnesses. In short, the effect is that people die long before they get to a ripe old age, and American statistics on life expectancy show this.

The VA, of course, does neither of these, which is why my friend still has medical care despite having no real income other than social security. And other countries, of course, are very keen to make sure women have health coverage and coverage for their infants, and provides every reasonable care for chronic illnesses, and every reasonable care for severe acute illnesses - hence their babies live and people with long-term care needs aren't dropped from rolls and left to die on the street.

Only American for-profit care does that.

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