It is obvious that none of the major Presidential candidates of either the Democratic or Republican Parties are supporting the right approach to providing universal healthcare. Frankly, all the Republican candidates are going to be major obstacles to achieving this national goal. While the top Democratic candidates (Clinton, Edwards and Obama) do support the concept, they are all offering Band-Aid approaches for a life-threatening economic and health crisis in America.
A bill has already been introduced in The House by Congressman John Conyers that effectively addresses the issue. H.R. 676 expands Medicare to cover all citizens.
The scope of the healthcare crisis in America is huge. It has very serious economic and moral implications. It is crippling our nation in terms of protecting American manufacturing, competing in the global economy and undermines our national security. It reflects badly on us as a just and moral society. It is literally killing Americans in huge numbers.
The number of Americans without health insurance is currently 47 million and growing rapidly. The number of underinsured Americans is much larger than the number of uninsured Americans. In America, over half of all personal bankruptcies are the direct result of medical crises. Over half of those bankruptcies are from individuals who had health insurance when their medical crises started.
Industry friendly studies of the number of Americans who died because they had no health insurance place the number at around 50 per week. The number is absurdly low and illogical.
Doing without healthcare at any point in life for a significant period of time will likely create health issues and physical damage. This damage accumulates over a lifetime and shortens your lifespan. You die younger than you would have if you had always had adequate healthcare. You might die at 70 instead of 85. In addition, the last years might have much lower levels of quality. Since most people die after reaching the age where Medicare coverage is already in effect, those deaths are not counted as resulting from a lack of healthcare insurance although they can be directly traced to an earlier lack of coverage. Most of the deaths resulting from a lack of healthcare insurance are thus concealed.
Even using the fraudulent 50 per week figure, killing Americans to preserve the profits of HMO's and insurance companies is completely immoral. Bankrupting Americans because of illness is a national disgrace. It does not happen in other industrialized nations. Out of the top 75 most industrialized nations in the world, only in the United States are citizens not provided by their government with universal healthcare.
In the United States, we saddle our businesses and corporations with the cost of providing for the healthcare needs of their employees. Our international competitors do not. This is one of the major reasons why good paying manufacturing and service sector jobs are leaving our nation. It is economic suicide.
None of the Band-Aid approaches advocated by the top Democratic Presidential candidates deal effectively with the trade implications of healthcare policy. I am personally supporting Edwards because he is more inclined to advance fair and balanced trade agreements than Clinton and Obama. For example, Clinton and Obama supported the most recent "so-called free trade" agreement with Peru while Edwards did not. However, even Edwards has not yet addressed the clear connection between international trade and healthcare.
The best solution for providing universal healthcare is expanding Medicare to cover all American citizens. Medicare is a proven program. It is popular and cost-effective. Our current private system has much higher levels of overhead costs than does Medicare. The only inefficient aspects of Medicare are the "privatized" programs added by the Bush White House and their Republican allies in the Senate. Medicare has been hugely successful despite ongoing Republican and corporate attempts to undermine it.
We can count on Republican politicians to label any move toward universal healthcare as "socialized medicine." They attempted mightily to destroy Medicare in the past using such tactics and failed completely. Politically, providing universal healthcare by expanding Medicare will be much easier than any other approach.
The private, profit-drive healthcare system is terribly unfair and inefficient. We spend 17 percent of our total economy on healthcare while our international competitors spend only 8 percent. They cover everyone and we do not. The numbers speak for themselves!
Expanding Medicare to cover everyone will not prevent citizens from buying supplemental healthcare if they can afford it. It will greatly help doctors who are General Practitioners by making medical need become effective demand. It will help hospitals by removing the burden of providing healthcare to those who cannot pay for it. It will make our workers healthier and more productive.
There must be a grassroots movement built behind "Medicare For All." Local activists, union leaders, businesses and politicians must all exert their efforts in a common movement. Most national union organizations and state AFL-CIO organizations are supporting H.R. 676. They are joined by many members of Congress. The legislation has 89 co-sponsors with more being added frequently. Many candidates are backing it!
Local leaders are already getting organized all over the nation. People like Amos B. McCluney, Jr. in Delaware and Alena Bandy in Maryland are actively organizing Medicare For All state chapters. Both leaders are grassroots Democratic activists with roots in the United Auto Workers. Both are reaching out into the community recruiting civil rights leaders, churches, community organizations and local politicians behind H.R. 676. They are not alone. I personally have talked with local activists from Tennessee, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and several other states who are working on building support for this legislation.
Pressure must be placed on all opinion leaders to support Medicare For All. Presidential, Senatorial and Congressional candidates should be pressured to support H.R. 676. All candidates should be placed on record that they would not veto Medicare For All nor place legislative obstacles in the way of passing H.R. 676, even if they do not actively support passage. Candidates failing to make such public pledges should not be supported by any American citizen.
Average Americans must reframe the debate over healthcare. Instead of calling for universal healthcare or single-payer healthcare, we should simplify the debate. We should be calling for "Medicare For All" and supporting H.R. 676.
Written by Stephen Crockett (co-host of Democratic Talk Radio and Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com).