May 23, 2018
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Pushing health care off the table

By Karen Johnson, Special to the BDN

Millions of us are demanding the same quality health care enjoyed by all of Europe and most of the rest of North America. The response of Congress and the president? Sorry, what you want is “off the table.”

When 75 percent of us want something like Medicare for everyone (June New York Times-CBS poll), we are told that is not even a topic for discussion. It is not the American people pushing national health care off the table, it is the for-profit corporations representing what they call the health “industry.” This is not democracy, it is corporatocracy.

Compared to other countries, we now pay for national health insurance, but don’t have it. Americans are taxed twice as much as other industrialized nations ($7,129 per person), yet we rank 37th for health care quality. Those of us who are on Medicare, serve in the military and work for the government already have national health insurance, so why don’t 50 million others of us have it, too?

Health insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers gave $5.5 million to 10 ranking senators and representatives (Consumer Watchdog). Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which plays a key role in what legislation is passed, received more than any other Democrat. Just two of the insurance biggies spent $4.5 million dollars to lobby this year.

Insurance companies are helping draft our legislation while thousands of doctors and nurses are left out of the planning. The result will likely be as big a fiasco as the bailout giveaway engineered by the banking lobby and the gutless energy bill co-authored by oil companies. I believe those legislators caving in to corporate pres-sure in return for huge campaign contributions are undermining our democratic system.

Reports show that the insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and other for-profit sellers in the health “industry” are defrauding the American public, failing to provide coverage, and not even insuring those who are supposed to be insured. More than half of the personal bankruptcies in this country are health related and three quarters of those who go under have health insurance. Half of the uninsured in this country are employed, and 25 percent are children, so don’t count on employers to cover them. We’ve already seen too much job splitting where two 20-hour people are hired for one job to avoid paying benefits.

I would think our leaders would want to restore medicine as a profession and treat it as the nonprofit it should be, but we hear that national health care is too expensive. I’ll confuse you with some facts. Taxes pay for 60 percent of American health care spending. Business pays less than 20 percent of our health bills and we pay 20 percent out-of-pocket. Administrative costs consume 31 percent of U.S. health spending, mostly unnecessary (Physicians for National Health Program Research), and Medicare’s overhead is one-tenth that of private insurance.

A New York Times-CBS poll found that 60 percent of us would pay higher taxes to give everyone health care, so it’s not us. Costs? How do you measure the cost of the 18,000 lives we know were lost last year due to lack of

health care? How do you measure cost when a third of the uninsured adults have chronic illnesses and don’t get the care they need?

Our own Olympia Snowe is a key person on the powerful Finance Committee. Her current position favors a public option that would kick in only if insurance companies fail to lower health care costs and expand coverage (the trigger). So, do we trust the insurance companies to fix things the way we hire foxes to fix henhouses?

Let’s take a closer look at Sen. Snowe’s ties to the health industries. Mind you, she’s not the only one — almost everyone in Congress takes corporate money. Over the course of her career Snowe has received about $400,000 in campaign contributions from the insurance industry; more than $400,000 in donations from health professionals; over $135,000 from hospitals and nursing homes; roughly $100,000 from pharmaceutical and health products companies and more than $60,000 from health services and HMOs (Center for Responsive Politics). This includes nearly $40,000 from the American Medical Association, over $27,000 from Aetna Inc., and more than $20,000 from the American Hospital Association. These donations represent roughly 11 percent of the senator’s overall campaign contributions. If we are to have the health care we need, want, and deserve, we must sway Sens. Snowe and Susan Collins, Rep. Mike Michaud and other members of Congress to advocate loudly and forcefully for us. If they do not, if corporate health interests dictate health legislation, we will know, in no uncertain terms, that our representative democracy has come to the end of its 225-year Golden Age.

Karen Johnson of Machias is a retired educator.

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