Health Care Reform ’09

Last Friday, I went to hear Dr Howard Dean talk about health care reform.  This is a good article about the meeting.   Since that meeting President Obama gave this speech and Dr Dean announced publication of his book on health care reform.  Coming from the UK, where there is universal health care, improving coverage in America is very important to me.

As some one who grew up with what has been variously (by Americans) called single-payer health care or socialized medicine, I do have a hard time understanding why there is not universal coverage in America. As Dr Dean raged in last Friday’s meeting:

Why do people get denied treatment in the US? It does not happen in any other industrialized country.

Americans often comment to me that taxes in the other countries are higher to cover the cost of health care, but it is a well known fact that out of all those industrialized nations, health care in the USA (ref) is at least twice as expensive as the next most expensive and something like 46 million people in the USA do NOT have coverage (ref).   I must say that personal health care costs certainly seem lower in the UK.  My mother and I had the same surgery five years apart.  Mine was a direct result of hers in some ways, because it meant I went for a baseline colonoscopy when the large and high-in-the-colon polyp was found.  I know I spent about $300 in copayments and that my health insurance company paid approximately $12,000.  Mum does not know how much her surgery and pre and post care cost.  It did not cost her anything.  I sometimes think the British government should send out bills stamped with the words “YOUR TAXES AT WORK” or “PAID BY YOUR TAXES” so people know the cost of care.

The plan Dr Dean supports is based on the plan he implemented in Vermont.  He was very adamant that choice would remain, and that you could take your health care with you from job to job.  Also, presumably from job to no job.  The idea would be to have a true public insurance option that would not be run by the current insurance companies, unless there was very thorough and careful regulation of those insurance companies.   The system would guarantee insurance and would have community rating, so that the highest cost would be no greater than 20% more than the lowest.  Additionally, Dean wanted the plan to move from treating illness to increasing and encouraging wellness.

One interesting note was that in Vermont, the public plan has 96% of costs going to health care.  The next nearest private insurance company spends 80% of costs on health care with the lowest spending less than 50%.

Some the questions asked at the meeting were insightful.  Ignoring for now the sad and heartbreaking health care lack of health care stories, a question was asked about whether the bill should be bipartisan to which Dean said the idea is to :

Pass a good bill rather than a lousy bill to satisfy the Republicans

In answer to another question, he did say that different states should be allowed to have differing public plans even if this was annoying for practitioners and patients.  This would allow states to be more innovative and try out new ways to getting health care and wellness care to their residents.   State independence allowed Vermont to be at the forefront of offering universal coverage to it’s residence.

A couple of things I need to check on are:

What actually is Obama’s plan?

Find out what Baucus has been saying about health care reform [sorry pdf].  He is head of the Senate Finance committee and there were comments at the meeting about him shutting out advocates of a single payer health care system.  Oh look, he says he was wrong to do that.

Write to my senators and representative about getting health care reform NOW!