Americans deserve more from health care debate

Posted Sept. 25, 2009, at 8:15 p.m.

As a direct care nurse of more than 40 years, I am amazed at the lack of commitment on the part of our representatives in Washington to universal health care. It has led to countless Americans feeling unrepresented, forgotten and denied the care they deserve.

I recently had the privileged of representing the direct care nurses who are members of the Maine State Nurses Association-National Nurses Organizing Committee at forums on health care held with Sen. Olympia Snowe and Rep. Mike Michaud.

I was disappointed with the events. Sen. Snowe seems too focused on giving another chance to insurance companies through her idea of “triggers,” while Rep. Michaud admitted he barely understood and did a poor job advocating for the “public option” at the heart of the Washington debate.

Both ideas are insufficient and neither addresses the crippling costs our patients face or achieves truly universal coverage. As a result health care would remain more of a privilege than a right.

MSNA-NNOC supports a form of universal health care coverage called single payer. Such a form of universal access to medical, dental and prescription coverage for all Americans is the only proposal thus far that would make health care available to every citizen, regardless of income.

Yet, our representatives continue to ignore this option in favor of complicated solutions that continue to favor the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies and big hospital corporations. The health care industry has become such a powerful player on Wall Street that the rights of the citizens on Main Street no longer seem to be at the forefront of the political debates.

And what do these insurance and other health care corporations want? A multi-tiered system, tilted towards those blessed with the ability to purchase high-end health insurance products from companies that seek to turn human suffering into profitable gain.

Why are we willing to watch as countless Americans suffer under the burden of a health care system that insists on payment “at the time services are rendered,” as if the purchase of health care is on the same level as buying a movie ticket or a new dress? Why are we satisfied with a system where medications are so costly that many either go without needed medications or skip doses? Why are we subsidizing the health care of our representatives in Washington, who don’t seem interested in improving the care of their constituents?

As Americans, we have mounted fierce, effective fights in this country to obtain and preserve our rights. The patients of this nation, and their advocates, now have no choice other than a full-throated campaign to win our right to health care. This is the human rights issue of our day for America.

Unfortunately, I have come in contact with patients who had poor and even fatal outcomes due to delayed or denied medical care due to lack of ability to pay. This, my fellow citizens, should find us all demonstrating in the streets. There is absolutely nothing equal about how health care is delivered in this country.

We should demand our rights as citizens to universal access to an affordable, top quality health care system. We still have great options to bring this about. HR 676 and S 703, by Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Bernie Sanders, would bring American health care closer in line with the European systems that outperform us. The “Ku-cinich Amendment” to the main House health care bill would allow states like Maine to experiment with similar state-based “single-payer” programs.

We need to speak out, loud and clear, to every representative in Washington, demanding that access to health care be recognized as a basic right for all Americans. We need to catch up to other industrialized nations in establishing a single-payer system that will not leave anyone out. We should demand the same level of medical, dental, optical and prescription drug coverage that they enjoy.

If our Washington representatives won’t bring health care to America — then it’s time to bring health care reform to Washington.

Cecile Martin has been a registered nurse for over 40 years. She currently works in the emergency department at Millinocket Regional Hospital.

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