Revolution In The U.S. - Health Care: People & Lawmakers Poised To Buck The Establishment

On a recent Sunday morning CBS commentator Charles Kurault listed some depressing statistics comparing children’s health care and infant mortality in the U.S. and several European countries.  The U.S. did badly by comparison and Kuralt asked rhetorically if these numbers showed that Europeans care more for their children than we do in the United States. “The answer is yes,” he said, and went on to illustrate our lack of concern for our own people with a story about a successful program for rural areas using vans to deliver medical services in the absence of hospitals and resident doctors.  Lack of funds shut it down, no matter that the people served have no other options.  Do we really care about our own people in such a situation?  It seems we don’t.

In this issue of ACCESS PRESS we are presenting a lot of opinions on the current debate over the solutions to this problem.  We frankly lean toward the “Canadian Plan” since the Canadian consumers are a lot happier with their system than Americans.  The 1988 Louis Harris survey reported that only 10% of Americans said that the U.S. health care system worked “pretty well” while 56% of Canadians answered “yes” to the same question.  89% of the Americans said our system needed fundamental change or complete rebuilding.  In spite of this public perception, no progress has been made at the federal level as legislators bow to heavy lobbying by the medical and insurance industries. 

We feel that the Minnesota legislature designed and passed an intelligent first step toward implementing universal health care in 1991, only to have it vetoed by the governor.

In Minnesota, however, it appears that the wishes of the majority may prevail.  Our legislators are not giving up and support for the plan is coming from a number of sources.  The governor, meanwhile, is facing problems from many directions, due to his heavy handed budgetary scare tactics in the last legislative session and the resulting veto fiasco.

The proponents of the Minnesota health care bill are not acting irresponsibly, but are on very solid ground.  The Health Care Access Commission which provided the basis for the legislation was a responsible group who made a major study of the problems for a year and a half.  They made clear that delay in starting to implement a universal system merely raises the ultimate cost, and that the end result over time is a net saving, with more control of future costs. 

We asked some of the major players in this controversy to explain their positions and we are printing their answers on pages 6, 7,  & 8 of this issue.  Governor Carlson’s letter explaining his veto was six pages long.  We have excerpted a large part of it, which we feel makes all of the major points clear.

We are also reprinting some statistical materials and more detail on the Harris survey.  We are doing this because we feel that a large part of our public perception of health care in other countries has been shaped by a continuing campaign of misinformation.  This campaign is provided to all sorts of media and to legislators by lobbyists for medical insurers and medical associations.  Typically, they express a reverence for high tech high priced medicine, and play up the fact that patients in other countries may have to wait for certain kinds of operations which we can provide on demand.  Very little is mentioned about the escalation in U.S. insurance rates, and the tendency to impose large deductible amounts on the buyers. 

Large deductibles keep policyholders from seeking routine health care for small problems, consequently our doctors become very competent in treating seriously ill people with big problems.  Uninsured people use emergency rooms for routine children’s problems because they are the only source of medical attention available.  The county probably picks up the tab at the highest possible cost, or if the individual has a modest income, they are handed a large bill which is usually a burden for a very long time.

A universal health plan should emphasize keeping people well, and encourage parents to visit a family practitioner regularly with their children.       

Peter McLauglin just happened to have the same theme in mind and you will find a clear rebuttal to the governor’s argument in his column.  Martin Sabo sent us the information on his current legislative proposal which we are happy to print.  Facets of his plan do represent concessions to the present cumbersome system, we feel, but the ultimate goal would still be an improvement.

We asked Paul Ogren about his intentions for the 1992 legislative session and he obliged with a strong statement.  We also asked him for some background on his new position as chair of the newly formed “State Alliance for Universal Health Care” and again he obliged.

We asked Paul Wellstone and Dave Durenburger for their positions, since they are both advocates of improved health care and their answers are reprinted here.  Quite different as you might expect, but well articulated expressions of the split in approach to the problem which has stalled meaningful legislation.

We realize this is “a whole lot of health care”, but we need to be in a position to argue for improvement in our system.  The question comes down to accomodating the current medical establishment versus solving the problem for the consumers.  The positions of the decision makers are clear.  Which side will prevail is less clear today than a few years ago.  The voters may even decide that they should insist on improvement and support truly universal access to health care. Now, not later.  It would be one large step forward in proving that we do care as much about our children as the citizens of other countries.  We do, don’t we?

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