A New Year's Dream for the Health Reform Effort

With all this talk of healthcare reform, we all might be forgiven for imagining that our experiences as patients might be looking up as 2010 dawns. Our reality is that we'll still be in the most weakened position of any of the parties involved in the U.S. healthcare system. We are fodder.

One-sixth of this nation's economy is devoted to the healthcare industry in one way or another. And with lots of hurting to go around in many sectors, the patients who provide the fuel to keep one-sixth of the nation's economic engine operating might deserve some special care and handling. Not so. It's a numbers thing. We're human. We get sick. After we die or get well, others get sick. The reality is that so long as the population continues to grow, the patient-fodder necessary to keep profits flowing in the health industry keeps growing too.

Treating patients well or acknowledging the human rights aspects of healthcare delivery are simply not necessary to increasing profits and keeping the economic engines humming. This is not a news flash for most of us as we have seen the standards of care dropping for some time. More and more widgets.

Stress builds and stress makes us sicker. There is little disagreement about the negative health impact of excessive stress on the human body. (Check out the studies on leading medical websites or the National Institute of Health or the American Heart Association if you need more affirmation of the stress-illness linkage.) And we live in stressful times. Our hearts, our minds and our spirits suffer when we worry about money and jobs and insurance and taxation and all the issues of modern American life.

But that's not to say we haven't advanced the cause of healthcare for all -- a progressively financed, single standard of high quality care for every person in this nation -- in 2009. We've had huge wins in the movement from our calling out of Congress and the President as they carefully tried to keep those who support a Medicare for all, single-payer system completely out of the discussion. In fact, it was in part their determination not to hear of single-payer that lifted the energy even higher.

I know for myself, when I heard the momentary rumblings during this Congressional health reform debate that Medicare might be opened up to those 55 and over, I rejoiced. I just turned 55 this fall. For only the second time in my life, I knew what it felt like to imagine a life without worry about getting healthcare when I get sick. Even if I would have had to pay a premium in addition to the Medicare tax I already pay, I knew that having Medicare would be such a blessing. Freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry about that aspect of my life. And someone was actually talking about it.

The only other time I felt that sort of relief for even a bit was when I was with Michael Moore in Cuba for the filming of portions of SiCKO, and I was able to get care without cash, a credit card or signing a promise to pay. Dignity heals. I know that to be true.

But then as quickly as those 55 and over buying into Medicare was a possibility, it was gutted from the discussion. It wouldn't have mattered if it was selfish Joe Lieberman or someone else, it would have been killed. Few in the Congress have stood their ground as advocates of a Medicare for all, single payer plan. Sometimes during the debates we all heard the Republicans defending Medicare more than the Democrats. But make no mistake, neither party was about to allow any diminishment of the power of the profit-makers.

So, where will we go with health reform in 2010? Oh, the Congress will pass something. The President will sign it. The Rose Garden will be jammed with glowing smiles. The Republicans will complain loudly and begin their work to win seats in the 2010 elections. And those who advocate for a more reasoned and responsible way to reform the system will not stop holding them all to account.

And what will they all -- Republicans and Democrats and even those pesky Independents -- stand to account for in 2010? 45,000 dead. Hundreds of thousands bankrupt. Millions more with problematic access to care and medical debt they cannot pay. Veterans' families. Kids. Hard-working, single parents. All left to fend for themselves while champagne (or a beer or two) flows in the make-believe world of this nation's well-heeled, elected class. That's a lot to own. Because they will not fix these issues as quickly as they all know they could, they all stand to account. Talk about everybody in, nobody out -- they all share this burden.

I watched a Robin Williams special the other day and one of his suggestions was that every member of Congress (and I'd include the President too) should have to wear a sponsorship jacket as they work on healthcare reform like NASCAR drivers do when they are racing. How true. And how amazing would that be?

Maybe that should be our work in the coming months. Perhaps we should sew sponsorship patches on red, white and blue jackets and present them to our Congressional members and our President. Then we could ask them to wear them to the Rose Garden signing ceremony for healthcare reform (oops, I forgot we're supposed to call it health insurance reform now). What a picture that would make. No doctors staged in white coats. No sincere but smug insurance industry hacks like Karen Ignagni in tasteful blue suits. No adoring patient families tearfully thanking them all for the joy of buying the insurance/financial product that has let so many down and cost so much. Just our elected officials in their lobby-label adorned frocks.

We can dream, can't we? And then we need to get back to work. Our fellow citizens are suffering and dying. Healthcare justice is yet to be won. Happy New Year.

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