HEALTH INSURANCE MOBILIZATION
April 15, 2009 -- Tom Barkley knows about the difficulties of dealing with the health care system: As a psychologist, he spends hours billing several dozen insurance companies with different sets of requirements.
But Barkley's dissatisfaction reached a new level a year ago, when his father was dying of lung cancer and he couldn't get straight answers from a health insurer on coverage.
"No one should have to argue with health insurance companies while their father is dying," Barkley said last week. As a taxpayer, he's outraged by the high costs for care and the nearly 50 million Americans without coverage.
He recently joined a local group that is mobilizing support for a federal insurance program for all Americans. That idea recently won the backing of the Republican-controlled City Council, which voted 4-1 vote in support of HR-676 — the National Health Insurance Act, which would create a single-payer system. And the community debate mirrors a national conversation about the state of health care.
The local 676 movement has drawn the support of health professionals, such as nurse Patricia Reed and Dr. George Jolly, as well as past and present city officials and area clergy.
Meanwhile, people opposed to national health care proposals and the creation of a carbon tax to combat global warming have banded together under the name Common Sense. The group started with eight members and has grown to 20, member Wilma Koss said.
Nationalizing the industry will take away individual choices in health care, and could lead to cost rationing by the government and less prospective doctors, Koss said.
"I have not seen a single government program that has saved money," Koss said. "We're trading one set of problems for a worse set."
But health care decisions now are made by the managed care business based on what is most cost effective, advocates of a not-for-profit model say.
What's certain is that costs have exploded. The city operates on a $37 million budget, and this year has budgeted $5.2 million for health care costs. That's an increase of almost $550,000 from last year, and a $3 million jump from just seven years ago.
Health care costs for the city school district increased to $12.4 million from $6.7 million during the same period.
Reformers say the present system is unsustainable, bankrupts families and strains city and school budgets. They support a publicly financed, privately delivered system proposed by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., that would expand the existing Medicare program to all U.S. residents. The effort has 75 co-sponsors but is stuck in committee. There aren't enough votes in Congress to pass universal health care, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
"I believe that a single-payer system would be the best way to ensure that all Americans have access to health care, but we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Schumer said. The best way to increase coverage is to include a public plan option to compete against private insurance, he said.
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