For American health care, consider the melting pot

Posted July 07, 2009, at 6:43 p.m.

I am very concerned about health care issues in the United States. I recently returned from a year in South Korea where I had major surgery for my appendix. I was in the hospital for 14 days and my total medical bill was just over $6,000 and my portion of it was $1,400. The cost of living in South Korea is about 20 percent less than in the United States, but even if my hospital bill was three times what it was, it would have been considerably cheaper than it is in the United States. I was able to return to work the day after I returned from the hospital — so they keep you there until you are essentially well.

Upon my return to the United States, it was impossible to obtain insurance, even Medicare, for which I was eligible. I was without insurance for seven months and only obtained it when I was hired. I was not able to get Medicare until July 1. They did not consider that I had insurance when I was in South Korea although I was fully insured.

My story is not one of great tragedy, just inconvenience on my part, but there are many for whom the lack of insurance is life threatening. Many do not see a doctor for routine medical evaluation and only do so when what had been a minor medical issue became a major one. Our emergency rooms have become overwhelmed by ailments that could be taken care of by a doctor, but many doctors will not see patients who are not insured. This is an expensive option and the cost of this is paid for by the paying, insured patient.

Health care has become a “big business” and a profit maker. When the reason for health care changed from taking care of patients to making a profit, the soul went out of health care. Insurance company executives and many hospital and medical administrators make more money than the doctors, nurses, technicians, and other employees. Many of these organizations are more concerned with paying dividends to their shareholders than taking care of people’s medical needs.

I know there is a big lobby of insurance companies against health care reform, but they have created the problem and have not been part of the solution. Are we going to let their dollars drive the debate or is the debate going to be driven by the needs of the citizens of the United States?

There are many models to look at, such as Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s National Health Insurance, Germany. And, of course, there is the out-of-pocket model prevalent in the developing countries and amongst the poor in the United States. All of these models are fairly easy to understand because we have elements of all of them in our fragmented national health care apparatus. When it comes to treating veterans, we’re Britain. For Americans over the age of 65 on Medicare, we’re Canada. For working Americans who get insurance on the job, we’re Germany. And, of course, the 15 percent poor in the U.S. who have no health insurance relate to the poor in the rest of the world who only have access to doctors and health care if they can pay.

We have three workable models, so it should not be hard to develop a system that works for all and excludes none. There should be an income-generated tier system in which those who earn the top 10 percent have to pay 100 percent into the system and those below the poverty line get their insurance for free with a sliding scale in-between.

I urge you to join me in support of a single-payer health system that provides universal health care for all citizens.

Sandra Basgall of Eastport was the headmaster at Incheon English Village in South Korea. She is now the monitoring and evaluation manager at St. Croix Valley Healthy Communities, one of the Healthy Maine Partnerships throughout the state.

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