I sent an email to my Senate mailing list requesting support for a single-payer Medicare-for-All system, and for personal stories describing the problems people are having with their health care coverage. Within a few weeks, some 40,000 people signed the single-payer petition and more than 4,000 sent in their personal stories. I want to thank all of those who responded.
I collected some of the letters in a booklet, "The Health Care Crisis: Letters from Vermont and America." In poignant and heartbreaking terms, the letters describe the pain and outrage that people are experiencing within our dysfunctional health care system.
A man in Swanton, Vt., told the story of his younger brother, a combat-decorated veteran of the Vietnam conflict, who died three weeks after being diagnosed with colon cancer. "He was laid off from his job and could not afford COBRA coverage. When he was in enough pain to see a doctor, it was too late. He left a wife and two teenage sons in the prime of his life at 50 years old. The attending doctor said that if he had only sought treatment earlier he would still be alive."
A woman in Eagle, Idaho, wrote of "a beautiful, intelligent, hard working small business owner who died because she couldn't afford to buy health insurance for her family nor her employees. She was 53 and I will never forgive my county for allowing the greed of the insurance companies to limit her opportunity for preventable health care. A colonoscopy at 50 would have saved her life."
Because every American needs to hear what's going on with health care in this country, I intend to read some of these letters on the floor of the Senate and send a copy of the booklet to every member of Congress.
I am sure that you will agree with me that it is unacceptable that:
* 46 million Americans lack any health insurance and that even more are underinsured.
* More than 18,000 Americans die every year because they don't have access to a doctor of their own.
* One million Americans will go bankrupt this year because of medically-related debt.
* Despite spending almost twice as much per person we lag far behind many other nations in such health care outcomes as life expectancy, infant mortality and preventable deaths.
* While we have a major shortage in primary care physicians, nurses and dentists, almost one in every three dollars spent in this country on health care goes for administration, bureaucracy and profiteering.
It has become clear that the function of a private health insurance is to make as much money as possible. Every dollar not paid out in claims is another dollar made in profits for the company. Insurance companies spend millions to hire people to do everything they can to avoid paying out legitimate claims, denying coverage because of "pre-existing conditions" and terminating coverage because of high medical bills.
It is no surprise, therefore, that tens of thousands of doctors support a single-payer health care system, as well as the largest nurses unions in the country. These health care professionals do so not just because they are outraged by the lack of coverage Americans experience, but because they are sick and tired of wasting their valuable time arguing with insurance bureaucrats about how they will treat their patients.
In my view, the fight for universal and comprehensive health care is the civil rights battle of our time. Like the other great struggles in our history that have made us a more democratic and just society, victory will require a strong and united grassroots movement that is prepared to take on the very powerful and wealthy special interests that benefit from this failing health care system.