CHICAGO — Imagine that every U.S. resident received a health insurance card that could be presented to any doctor or hospital for a full range of medical benefits. As a patient, you would pay nothing, and you would receive no medical bills.
Does this sound to good to be true?
Many argue that the U.S. health care system is failing the nearly 47 million uninsured and millions more who are denied coverage by an industry that allows private insurance corporations to maximize profits before responding to people’s medical needs.
Steve Skvara, 60, worked for LTV Steel in Indiana for 34 years. He is married and has four children. In 1997 Skvara and his family were in an auto accident that left them with many permanent disabilities. Skvara, who walks with two forearm crutches, retired from LTV steel on disability after the accident.
Five years later, another major blow hit the Skvara family. LTV Steel declared bankruptcy, leaving its retirees without health care and minus a third of their pensions.
Skvara, a leader with the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, has been fighting for nationwide health care rights ever since. Last August, during a Democratic presidential debate here before more than 15,000 union members, Skvara personified the devastating effects of a broken health care system on working families. He challenged the candidates to change a system under which he cannot afford to pay for his wife’s care.
On Sept. 28, Skvara rallied with other health care advocates and groups at the State of Illinois building in downtown Chicago as part of a national day of action for single-payer health care.
“This country has the finest doctors and nurses in the world,” he told the World at the rally. “But it has the worst health care delivery system known, based on profit and greed and not on need.”
Skvara said people need to push lawmakers to back HR 676, the “Medicare for All” bill, a national health care bill that promotes universal health care in the United States.
“Who’s going to run this country? The corporations or the people who vote? We have to realize our potential and our power as voters,” he said.
Health care rights activists say medical bills contribute to half of all U.S. bankruptcies, and prescription drug costs here are the highest in the world. They say replacing private insurance companies with a single-payer plan would save about $350 billion per year, enough to provide guaranteed comprehensive health benefits for all.
They also point out that nearly one-third of health spending, $2,300 per person, goes to administrative costs and profits for insurance companies instead of care. The U.S. spends twice as much on health care as any other industrialized nation, but ranks 37th in the world in quality of care.
Alison McKenna, a volunteer activist with Chicago Single-Payer Action Network and one of the organizers of the rally, said, “We are trying to let folks know that single-payer health care is possible and cheaper. Insurance companies are actually part of the problem.”
McKenna was also promoting the Illinois State Single-Payer Health Care Program, House Bill 311. With HB 311, anyone in Illinois would have access to health care with no co-pays, deductibles, premiums or prescription fees or costs, she said. All treatment, including dental care, vision services, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, home care and long-term care would be provided. “The basic premise is that health care would be a right,” she said.
State Rep. Mary Flowers, one of the primary supporters of HB 311, told the crowd that Illinois cannot wait for the government to get its act together on a national health care plan.
“Insurance companies should not be able to practice their bad medicine,” said Flowers. “They do not provide health care.”
“I want the government to step in on health care or we are going to have to do what they did in Louisiana for the Jena Six,” she said. “We will have a march like it’s for our civil rights.”