Pardon me, but I'm getting awfully tired of the information-poor level of public debate about health care reform in the United States. Tune into the major media and you could think that no country had ever figured out how to create a system with universal coverage before. Duh!!. There has been almost no reporting on the health care systems of the countries who, year and year, best us by providing universal health coverage while spending less of their total national income than we do. You would think we have nothing to learn from The Netherlands, from Denmark, from New Zealand, Sweden, Canada and all the other countries whose people can't understand why we Americans continue to put up with the expensive, unjust, inefficient mess we have.
By the time this editorial is published, the health reform situation may have improved, and Congress may have passed, in a rare bipartisan effort, a system that provides for the same quality of health care for everyone. But I doubt that will happen this fall, because members of Congress are still more scared of losing the future campaign contributions from drug and insurance companies than they are of losing the votes of people who know that "Universal coverage" doesn't mean that ninety some percent of us get health care coverage while the rest continue to be left out.
Let's not forget that during the 1980s the price of medical care in the United States more than doubled. This did not happen in every industrialized country. Drug company profits in 1991 were four times higher than other Fortune 500 companies. These companies would like us to believe that their major expenditure is for research, but they spend billions of dollars more on advertising and lobbying than on research. Another big expense is the annual salaries of the big insurance and drug company executives. Aetna pays its big guy $1.1 million, Cigna pays $1.3 million, Travelers $1.2 million, Pfizer $1.2 million, Merck $3.4 million and Bristol-Myers Squibb pays a big $12.8 million.
More than $60 billion every year goes to insurance company red tape and administrative waste. Add to this and as yet untallied amount that could be called insurance company trickery. Here's just one example of what is legal for insurance companies to do to us. All employees of the State of Illinois are insured by a Cigna company. Buried in the fine print of these employees' insurance policies is a clause which stipulates that pregnant women must telephone the insurance company before they reach their seventh month of pregnancy and inform it of their intention to proceed with the pregnancy tf they are not to be fined $400 plus 5 percent of the total materIlity care bill. It doesn't matter that all the premiums have been paid to the insurallce company or that all the bills for prenatal and lab care have been sent to it. Either the phone call is made or the fine is assessed.
Let us also remember that during the 1980s, health industry political action committees (PACs) invested a total of $60,030,791 in congressional candidates, according to Common Cause. Last year alone they contributed about $10 million to candidates for national office. Expect it to be even higher this year.
Do you think it's possible that the big media are more afraid of losing big advertising money from the drug and insurance companies than they are of being accused of being less than responsible about providing the public with accurate information related to health care? If so, I invite you to join me in telephoning the president or director of news at
ABC 1 -212-456- 7777
CBS 1 -212-975-4321
PBS 1-202-879 9600
Call them Person-to-Person. It might take a number of calls, and you shouldn't give in to secretaries or aides.
Tell them to have a midweek, prime time forum on how the addition of thousands ot midwives to our system could solve the access-to
maternity-care problems of rural areas and inner cities of the United States.
Tell them the public needs more information about the Single Payer Plan. It's still the only one that puts any meaningful controls on profiteering by insurance and drug companies, still the only plan that provides health care for everyone, still the only plan that allows us to see the physician of our choice. We all need to realize that a for-profit medical industry will never do anything meaningful toward health promotion and disease prevention, since more sick people translate into more bucks.
Copyright © 1994 Ina May Gaskin
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