At Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, a 60-year-old woman has been hospitalized for weeks suffering from heart failure. Nurse Patricia Eakin says the woman should not have been in the hospital in the first place.
But the woman is in the hospital because with no insurance, she didn’t have money to buy enough medicine to prevent or slow the heart disease.
She was taking the medicine every other day, and not every day as the prescription called for, said Eakin, who is also president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, an independent statewide nurses union.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, the medical bills of a 3-year-old hemophiliac child are approaching his father’s company’s lifetime limits on health care coverage. It’s cases like these that sent advocates of government-run, single-payer health care coverage to Washington in late January to raise the visibility of their cause.
Their timing was perfect. That’s because President Bush’s Jan. 23 State of the Union address called for taxing what he termed “gold-plated” health insurance. He also called for giving a tax deduction — more usable by wealthier taxpayers — to individuals for their first $7,500 in yearly health insurance spending, and $15,000 for families’ spending.
Bush’s scheme drew scorn from the single-payer advocates. They said it would only throw more people into the ranks of the uninsured while lining the pockets of the insurance companies.
No help for ‘underinsured’
Even Bush’s White House admitted his deductions would only help at most 3 million of the 47 million uninsured — and none of the “underinsured,” like the father of the hemophiliac child.
By contrast, they said, their plan, HR 676, the government-run, single-payer health care bill crafted by veteran Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), would help everyone. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and 52 other lawmakers, is one of a raft of competing health care proposals, including Bush’s, floating around Washington.
HR 676 had more than 78 backers in the last session of Congress. Kucinich told a Jan. 24 press conference that after it is reintroduced, he’ll schedule a House subcommittee hearing on it, possibly in April.
The advocates, led by Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses Association, and Dr. Oliver Fein of the Physicians for a National Health Plan, contend a government-run single-payer plan would cut costs. It would eliminate the health insurance companies and their paperwork, denial of coverage and high overhead. The plan would cover everyone, they say, including the uninsured and underinsured.
What Katrina revealed
“We sent nurses as volunteers from California” to treat refugees from Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, said Burger. The nurses expected to treat trauma from the hurricane. They were wrong.
“They were treating hypertension and heart conditions. For many of these people, who were poor and without health insurance, it was their first visit by a health care professional, ever. The nurses were doing primary care, and they saw how our patched-up health care system doesn’t work,” Burger added.
Advocates say single-payer health care would save money compared to the present system by eliminating $500 billion to $600 billion in overhead, duplication, high CEO pay and advertising. Overall, the U.S. spends $2 trillion, one-sixth of its gross national product, on health care.
More than 220 union groups, the latest being unionists in Oklahoma and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, back HR 676, said Kay Tillow, a spokeswoman for the Louisville-based single-payer campaign organized by union nurses.
Kucinich said single-payer would be financed by small payroll taxes on employers and employees, elimination of overhead, a surtax on the wealthy, a tax on stock and bond transfers and the end of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. In return, backers promised single-payer would let people choose their own doctors, guarantee care, and end deductibles, co-payments and high premiums.
“We’ll see dramatic savings and redirection of resources from the insurance companies to the general public,” Kucinich said.
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