Universal health care is near at hand

Posted June 24, 2009, at 7 p.m.

I have been a proponent of universal health care and single payer since retiring from the practice of surgery more than 10 years ago. During this decade I have never waffled on my conviction that our nation should transition to a system in which every citizen has an equal opportunity to obtain their health care from practitioners of their choice.

Further, I am convinced that the for-profit form of health care has morphed into an uncontrolled hierarchy of greed that has escaped from the normal restraints of personal ethics, compassion, empathy and basic unqualified concern for one an other without reservation. I feel that social justice should leap to the forefront of our decisions when an individual — any individual — has a health problem. Accordingly, it is obvious that universal health care has my support, and it is not surprising that polls of physicians, nurses and the general population concur.

Now, we have arrived at a point in the history of our nation where it is reasonable to say that universal health care is near at hand, and after trying practically everything else, the vast majority are convinced that a reform has arrived. Black, white, Republican, Democrat, Green, young, old, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Asian, Native American, rich or poor — a modern melting pot has come to be, and we are all in it together. After a 10-year wait, I am delighted, the bus has arrived. I hope.

Single payer usually tags along when universal health care is the subject at hand. At times when being discussed, they are wed, and health care reform may be referred to as “universal single payer.” That’s too fast for many who look upon this as two separate entities. Not me, though. I believe we, as a nation, deserve both. I fur-ther believe that single payer will happen, and we need to work diligently to make this happen sooner, rather than later.

Another decade of waiting, with its stymieing of small business, its shameful financial effects on the middle class, its drain on state treasuries, its primary etiology in bankruptcy and its continuous release of wealth to special interests, cannot be tolerated by a nation already brought to its knees by mammoth fraud, greed and incom-petence. We cannot add health care to the list that includes Enron, banks, brokerages, insurance companies, a protracted automotive industry collapse, and stunning Ponzi schemes. We, as a nation, are on the ropes. The time has come to learn to say no. No more rip-offs. No more robbery. We have come to a fork in the road with a hairpin turn. We need to take the high road regardless of forks and turns, regardless of the consequences to those who have taken advantage of us. We cannot tolerate another hit.

Single payer is a great way to start. A great way to express the confidence we have in our federal government to do the right thing on our behalf. To show that we are tough at home as well as abroad. All we want is a fair and inexpensive accounting of expenditure of health care dollars. This is single payer, not socialized medi-cine.

When we hear criticism of the federal government, with critics saying they do not trust the government to run health care, then we simply should remind such skeptics that our federal government already administers and funds well over 50 percent of total health care expenditures by this nation. We should remind them and our-selves that the government already runs a stable of health care agencies which are national jewels, and include: Medicare, Medicaid, military medicine, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Service, health care aid to the Third World, World Health Organization participation and aerospace medicine.

We are fortunate to have such a list — a list whose executives are employed by us and whose compensation is Main Street, not Wall Street. A list that could be enhanced enormously simply by adding single payer.

Richard C. Dillihunt, M.D., a retired general, vascular and transplant surgeon, lives in Portland. He may be reached at dillihunt8@aol.com.

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