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Senator Sanders' solution on health care

09/13/2007

By Mary Alice Bisbee

According to my morning paper, Senator Sanders has just introduced a bill to fund a pilot project for five states to implement different models of universal health care coverage. Although he is quoted as saying that this will be a long haul to have passed, it seems encouraging to me that he is hoping that Vermont will take the initiative to expand all the work that is going into the new Catamount Health Plan into a model for single payer health care.

Of course, Mr. Potter disagrees (last week's letter). He seems to be living in another world from the one I live in. As a senior citizen, I now have much better health care than I had in the 20 years prior to becoming eligible for the single payer system in our country, Medicare. Yes, my friends, Medicare is a very limited single payer system that works for all people who have been disabled for over two years, or are over 65/66 years old.  It does not cover dental, alternative treatments, and is not 100 percent coverage, but it is a start. Administration costs for Medicare are much lower than those for private nonprofit and for-profit insurance companies.

Historically, it is important to note that health insurance only became an employee benefit during World War II, when there was a wage freeze for the war effort, and employers found that providing health benefits to their best employees was a way of getting around these restrictions and retaining their workforces. Unions now spend much of their time and money negotiating health care contracts as the cost of health care continues to rise and employers cut back on benefits. Those interested in the high education costs and escalating Vermont property taxes to meet these costs should stop and think about how these costs would shrink if health care was available to all through more broad based taxes, and not dependent on one's employment.

We have all heard the stories of how it is much cheaper to build and buy a car in Canada than in the U.S. because health benefits are not part of the expense of building the car.

While Catamount Health Care is not a panacea, it could be a step in the right direction. It is a compromise between the public and private sectors that initially pleased neither the left nor the right. However, many of the steps to streamline billing systems with common protocols and documentation, computerized record systems while protecting patient privacy, and other cost saving innovations are already in the works in Catamount. And much of the medical industrial complex is already behind these innovations.

We have a very broken health care payment system in our country, Mr. Potter. It is much worse than the problems faced in Canada and the United Kingdom. We are the only industrialized country that does not have a health care system that works for all of its citizens. Yes, you may hear a whole lot more about Canadian and U.K. health problems, because they are public systems paid for by taxpayers, who can speak up about problems and get them fixed and not be afraid of losing their jobs because they do.  

We also do not have the best statistics for longevity, infant deaths, etc. and in the most recent statistics I have read, there are many more American doctors moving to Canada than the other way around. And we all know about all the U.S. residents who routinely get their medications, glasses, dental care and hearing aides from Canada, particularly if they are French Canadians.
Congressmen Conyers and Kucinich have 78 cosponsors on a bill currently facing a very uphill battle in the House of Representatives, H.R. 676, which would expand Medicare to cover all Americans and has several great proposals as to how to facilitate this change over time. It would also cover dental, optometric, and other essential services that are not merely cosmetic, and would be overseen by the states, as part of the current Medicare regional offices. For more information about H. R. 676, contact the House of Representatives web site and download the entire bill. It is the only bill that truly meets the needs of all persons in a fair and just manner. Or you may call 1-800-453-1305 to reach Healthcare-NOW, or access www.healthcare-now.org.
But, of course, until we stop spending billions in Iraq, there is not much we can do with domestic issues.

Mary Alice Bisbee lives in Waitsfield and is co-president of the Green Mountain Chapter of the Older Women's League.
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