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Letter from England: What's up with your healthcare?

Life From Your Window column
By: Elaine Jo Giamona
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“It is very unusual for me to shout at my radio, but this morning, it took all of my willpower not to pick it up and throw it against the wall.” Those words began a compelling letter I received from a British friend, portions of which I have included here, with the writer’s permission. It was titled “To My American Friends.” Chris Downie had been listening to a program on B.B.C. Radio about Britain’s National Health Service. There was a discussion about ads being aired in the U.S. on behalf of the Republican Party, as he said, “in its effort to undermine President Obama’s attempts to give your citizens what every other Western democracy takes for granted: universal health care free at the point of need to all, regardless of wealth, ethnicity or religious belief.” “Some Americans believe that free basic healthcare is somehow un-American,”?he wrote. “That universal healthcare will take away our freedom. These beliefs are fostered by fear and fear alone. Fear of more taxes, fear of big government and fear of the words “socialized medicine.” The U.S. is the only developed country, except for South Korea, which does not provide healthcare for all its citizens. We have a for-profit healthcare system. Let me try to explain why I believe we must change our present system from healthcare for profit to healthcare for all and how allowing it to remain in its present form can have a devastating effect on each of our lives. In our All-American Town of Lincoln, anyone can go broke if they get sick, even if they have health insurance. A cancer diagnosis “is a catastrophic double whammy” for many patients, said Blair Horner, an American Cancer Society vice president. “Bad news on their health and potentially catastrophic news for their finances.” (Physicians for a National Health Program, Jan. 17, 2012). I am not so bold to think there is a quick or fix-all solution. Much like the history of Social Security from 1935 until now, effective healthcare reform in America will be a slow, gradual process. President Clinton introduced a healthcare reform plan in 1993 that ultimately failed, giving way to a system that I believe benefits investors over patients, doctors, and community hospitals. After 60 years of failed attempts in Congress, the Affordable Healthcare Act of 2010 became law, followed by a Supreme Court decision upholding it in 2012. Only with continued public support of healthcare reform, and of legislators and statesmen who promote it, will this new law evolve into a healthcare system that serves people, not big business. A healthcare system to make Americans proud. As the documentary “Money-Driven Medicine” (California Newsreel, 2009) shows, we spend twice as much per capita on healthcare as the average developed nation yet we have worse outcomes because our country is the only developed nation with a medical system largely unregulated and for profit. A for-profit system means our premium cost and the price of vital drugs and medical care are largely unregulated. Our lives are at the mercy of big business, whose bottom line is to maximize profits for its shareholders. These uncontrolled costs affect every facet of our lives, either directly or indirectly. Even when we have coverage, we “may not be protected from high out-of-pocket costs when diagnosed with cancer,” according to a 2009 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Along with high insurance premiums, those costs may force us to pile up debt to pay for care we need — or postpone or skip life-saving treatment. And insurance companies can cancel or limit coverage at will, leaving dying patients with no alternatives. I know a young couple in Lincoln with a new baby. Their cost of health insurance is more than $1,500 a month, plus any co-pays and deductibles. A dear friend of mine in Southern California recently had the shock of her life. After being rejected by two insurance companies for pre-existing conditions, she was required to pay nearly $2,000 per month, just for herself. The “conditions” are not life-threatening. Another Lincoln family of five, whom I know well, found that their out-of-pocket cost for insurance coverage and co-pays was more than $20,000 in one calendar year, even though they had suffered no serious illness. Each of us may know someone who works full time or remains in a stressful or difficult work environment, because they cannot afford to pay for insurance coverage for their family, which is provided by the employer. With a job loss often comes the loss of that health insurance, making it even more difficult to pay for care. Many resort to running up credit card debt to pay medical bills. It is my sincere belief that we the people have the power to elect government representatives, at both state and local levels, who are free from the control of lobbyists and big business corporate interests and who are willing to work on the difficult task of taking big business out of healthcare. This complicated and controversial goal can be accomplished over time with the education, awareness and determination of voting citizens. Only then will Americans enjoy a healthcare system to be proud of, at a per capita cost closer to England’s $3,000, far less than our $7,000 per capita annually. (WHO 2008 report). And healthcare would not just be affordable. It would be free. Elaine Jo Giamona is a Soroptimist International of Lincoln charter member and McCoy Real Estate and Property Management owner/broker. Her website is http://mccoyreo.com. She is creator and administrator of the Facebook group, Lincoln Nonprofit Coalition. Comments are welcome at egiamona33@gmail.com gmail.com.