Health care for all |

Health care for all

Hal Sundin
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As I See It

A truly effective health care system must do two things: it must provide equal health care for everyone, and it must be affordable. The present system does neither. But before we can develop a workable plan, we must recognize one undeniable truth – that there is no way we can afford to provide everyone with everything that modern medicine is capable of achieving. That said, I propose a universal health care plan (similar to Medicare, but with some significant differences) along the following lines.

First, as a universal plan covering everyone, it should be funded like Social Security, by payroll deductions. There would therefore no longer be a need for health insurance, which would put an end to battles with health insurers seeking to deny coverage and payment of claims, and would reduce health care costs by eliminating the approximately 20 percent of those costs currently being siphoned off by the health insurance industry.

Second, the plan would cover basic health care needs at a manageable cost by excluding the heroic life-prolonging procedures which are driving health care costs through the ceiling. Coverage for those procedures would continue to be available through private insurance for those who want to purchase it. As with long-term care insurance, the earlier that coverage is purchased, the lower the annual premiums would be.

But there would be some strings attached. Annual physical check-ups would be required for both adults and children. This would further reduce medical costs by finding and treating health conditions early, before they become serious problems requiring costly treatment procedures. Failure to have these check-ups, and not correcting health-risk lifestyle practices such as smoking, alcoholism and not controlling obesity, would be discouraged by imposing a penalty in the form of higher payroll deductions.

So much for affordable universal health care. But how do we control the cost of Medicare, which the pending eligibility of the “baby-boom” generation, threatens to bankrupt? It is a recognized fact that on average, something on the order of 80 percent of a person’s lifetime medical costs are incurred in the last two years of life. This brings up a difficult question (but one that must be dealt with), and that is whether in many cases these costly procedures are truly beneficial. Though they may extend life (in many cases by only a few months), do they really do the patients a service, and do they really improve their quality of life or merely prolong their suffering? Often it’s a case of emotionally distraught relatives making decisions to keep “poor old Uncle Charley alive”, often against his wishes. And frequently, where there is one life-threatening condition, there are others just waiting their turn. This is an opportunity for counseling by non-government organizations, similar to Hospice, to assist families in making end-of-life decisions with their loved ones, and individuals in making those decisions for themselves. This is a far cry from the “death squads” the health insurance industry conjured up to try to frighten people into opposing any kind of universal health care plan. It would be possible over a period of years to ultimately phase out Medicare and replace it with a cradle-to-grave (like Social Security) universal health care plan that would provide affordable life-long health care for everyone.

My thesis here is that if we do not take a pragmatic approach to the issue of health care, we will inevitably be confronted with the collapse of our present health care systems on their own, and possibly the bankruptcy of our country as well. The time to take action is now – before it is too late – even if we have to abandon some of our preconceptions.

– Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.

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