Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Kennedy-Dingell "Medicare for All Act"

In keeping with the "Cover the Uninsured" week, I've already mentioned that John Edwards is the only candidate with a truly universal health care plan and John Conyers' sponsored the U.S. National Health Insurance Act (HR 676), so I thought I'd throw another plan into the mix - the "Medicare For All Act" (HR 4683).

Recently introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich, the plan offers the uninsured a
choice to use Medicare or the federal employees health plan, the same plan members of Congress and the president currently enjoy. How sweet is that? Who wouldn't want the same level of health care Washington gets?

You can read about the legislation
here and here, but according to ABC News, "Everyone with a social security number would be covered for their entire lives under this plan. People could also choose to stick with their employer's health plan."

ABC News medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson called the plan brilliant:
"It's politically brilliant because one of the options offered in the plan is to choose health coverage from the federal employees' health program," Johnson said.

"Every member of Congress has it and loves it — even the president uses it. So, I think it's very tough politically for Congress to say, 'I have it and love it, but you can't have it, too.'" [emphasis mine]
Something tells me Washington has ad agencies working on the spin already. In fact, opposition from the powerful health care industry is the biggest obstacle according to Dr. Johnson:
The health care industry spent more than $412 million lobbying Congress last year, according to Congressional Quarterly. And a watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, found that the health care industry has employed 48 former members of Congress and a dozen former senators as lobbyists in recent years.

Johnson said public support for a new health care system could help push the plan through if the political winds shift.

"People are getting worried about their health coverage," Johnson said. "It does have a chance. Probably not this year, but if a Democratic president is elected, and Congress stays Democratic, then it has a real chance of getting passed."
There's no doubt the political winds are changing:
About 56% of Americans would prefer universal coverage to the current U.S. system, and 68% feel providing coverage for everyone is more important than keeping taxes down, according to an October 2006 poll of 1,201 Americans by USA Today, ABC News and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Alternet calls "Medicare for All: The Only Sound Solution to Our Healthcare Crisis" and they ask us to consider the following dismal statistics:
Not only are 47 million Americans uninsured (approximately 18.5 percent of the insurable market), 41 percent of Americans with incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 did not have health insurance for at least part of 2005, up from 28 percent in 2001; 53 percent with incomes under $20,000 lack health insurance.

The number of people without health insurance rose 16.6 percent from 2001 to 2005; average health insurance premiums for a family of four are $10,880, which exceeds the annual gross income of $10,712 for a full-time, minimum-wage worker; lack of insurance causes 18,000 excess deaths a year; people without health insurance have 25 percent higher mortality rates; and, 59 percent of uninsured people with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes skip medicine or go without care.

There are additional costs to the haphazard U.S. healthcare system: More than 50 percent of the U.S. population has medical debt problems; between 1981 and 2001, medical-related bankruptcies increased an astounding 2,200 percent and 55 percent of personal bankruptcies are now caused by illness or medical debts, despite the fact that over 75 percent of the bankrupts had health insurance at the onset of bankruptcy and illness.

Contrary to popular conceptions, the average medical bankrupt was a 41-year old woman with children, some college education; over half owned homes and over 80 percent were in the middle or working classes.
They also debunk the argument that the United States has the best quality health care in the world:
The World Health Organization ranks healthcare systems based on objective measures of medical outcomes: The United States' healthcare system currently ranks 37th in the world, behind Colombia and Portugal; the United States ranks 44th in the world in infant mortality, behind many impoverished Latin American countries. While infant mortality in the United States is skewed toward poor people, who have rates double the wealthy, the top quintile of the U.S. population has infant mortality rates higher than Canadians in the lowest quintile of wealth.

Out of 30 developed nations, life expectancy in the United States ranks 21st; life expectancy in the United States is 4.6 years less than Japan, 2.1 years less than France and 2.6 years less than Canada. The United States has fewer physicians, nurses and hospital beds than most developed nations. In the United States, 28 percent say it is "difficult to get care"; in most European countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, 15 percent say that. In terms of continuity of care (i.e., five-plus years with the same doctor), the United States is the worst of all developed nations. By every objective measure, the United States has a second-rate healthcare system.
We can't look to the Republicans to do something about this problem. They've been in power for years and the problem has only gotten worse. That leaves us one choice - vote Democratic. As Dr. Johnson said, "if a Democratic president is elected, and Congress stays Democratic, then it [universal health care] has a real chance of getting passed."


Praguetwin said...

This plan looks slightly better than HR 676. Choice is always a good thing, especially when you are trying to sell a plan to the public.

foxcpa said...

This plan is LONG, LONG overdue. There is absolutely no excuse for ANY American to be without some form of healthcare coverage. Our own insurance premiums cost in excess of $12,000 per year, and that does not include our out of pocket deductible of $1,000 each. Let's hope Congress can give Americans a bit more than lip service on this one. And yes, it would be nice to have the same opportunities as our elected officials.

rich said...

I wonder how many people could have been covered with the $412 million the Health Industry spent lobbying Congress. This is why Health Care should be run in a need-based fashion and NOT as a for-profit business as it is now.

abi said...

Thanks for continuing to post so well on this issue. foxcpa is right - there's just no excuse for citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth to be without health care.

But don't be too disappointed if it doesn't happen in our lifetimes.

Anonymous said...

Haven't read the medicare-for-all plan yet, but I don't see any objection from the pro-private-sector that can't be overcome with logic! First of all, the private sector HAS NOT been able to fix the health care crisis. And, like integration and other social movements, it always falls to government to force people into societal improvements that they are unwilling to implement voluntarily, (usually because their ox is the one that would get gored if change would be implemented).
Anyway, it doesn't take a rocket scientist (or, in the case of health care, a brain surgeon), to see that if people could see a doctor early on in an illness, it would be less expensive to treat, instead of the person waiting to see a doctor until more expensive measures need to be taken, or go to expensive emergency room treatment.
As you can guess, I am one of the uninsured.

Anonymous said...

It's a very provocative idea, but to address anonymous' comment. I'd like to think that objections from Big Health could be countered with simple logic, but it's money--specifically lobbying money--that will determine the outcome of this debate.