Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast, the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog, and a senior contributing editor at the ADCC News.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Unhealthy Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 

Apparently Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not speak much about the issue of health care directly, although one quote widely attributed to him is crystal clear both in its wisdom and bluntness: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

While it is pointless to debate the specifics about what Dr. King, who would have been 77 Sunday, would be doing today had he not been assassinated in 1968 and were still alive today, it is important to examine the glaring inequities and failures of the American medical system through his keen sense of justice.

Take the new privately-run Medicare prescription program that went into effect Jan. 1. The New York Times reports that already there are "tens of thousands of people unable to get medicines promised by Medicare," that "several states declared public health emergencies," and that "Many of the problems involve low-income people entitled to both Medicare and Medicaid."

While the Bush administration is telling "insurers that they must provide a 30-day supply of any drug that a beneficiary was previously taking, and it said that poor people must not be charged more than $5 for a covered drug," this gross inefficiency aimed at some of the most vulnerable people in our society is typical of the high cost, chronic errors, and overall injustice of the private health care system in America.

Those who worship the "free" market like some used to do Zeus have no explanation how in the field of health care, the private American system stacks up poorly against government-run national health care programs in the advanced Western countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, and Germany.

A recent editorial in the St. Petersburg Times cites a survey about health care in the U.S. and these other countries. It quotes the authors of the study as saying in the journal Health Affairs, "The United States often stands out with high medical errors and inefficient care and has the worst performance for access/cost barriers and financial burdens."

The problems include American health care actually being the costliest per patient, that Americans are most likely to skip seeing a doctor or filling a prescription because of cost to the patient, that this system has the most errors in care, and that it also leaves patients with among the longest waits to get care.

The editorial states that health care costs account for 15.3 percent of the gross domestic product and that "An astonishing $119.7-billion of that was spent on administration of government and private insurance plans. Much of that cost, it bears remembering, is money wasted on deciding who is covered and who is not. This is as cruel as it is inefficient."

On top of all this, the number of Americans without health insurance tops 45 million, an all-time high, and shows no signs of improvement.

At the same time, even those with health insurance may actually have their health and livelihood destroyed by the for-profit system itself. This is not mainly the result of malpractice, but how the private insurance companies reimburse providers.

The New York Times series "BAD BLOOD: DIABETES IN NEW YORK CITY" exposed "the byzantine world of American health care, in which the real profit is made not by controlling chronic diseases like diabetes but by treating their many complications."

Because it is more profitable to do so, preventive care such as access by diabetics to nutritionists and podiatrists is often not covered, while costlier but last-ditch efforts like amputations and kidney dialysis are: "Insurers, for example, will often refuse to pay $150 for a diabetic to see a podiatrist, who can help prevent foot ailments associated with the disease. Nearly all of them, though, cover amputations, which typically cost more than $30,000."

Even the medieval practice of bleeding was less barbaric than this, since that was mostly based on ignorance and not greed, as drives the profit-hungry private insurers who so treasure amputation over podiatric care.

So while no one can know for sure precisely what Dr. King would have been advocating today, those who share his vision of a society free of injustice and inequality regard health care not as a privilege reserved for those with wealth and status, but as a human right, which should be available to all. Anything less is pure insanity and, in essence, a crime against humanity.

There are many people pressing for wholesale changes in this unjust health care system. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives last year, H.R.676, with the chief aim "To provide for comprehensive health insurance coverage for all United States residents."

Sponsored by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and with 62 cosponsors, it is presently languishing in the House Subcommittee on Health, opposed by those many politicians who are whores for the anti-health care insurance company profiteers.

Wherever you are, whatever your present health, and whether or not you presently have health insurance, support this type of legislation. Your life and the lives of your loved ones may just depend on it.

And if you think that it may be a long way off until such a change can come, remember that America is the only advanced developed country in the world without some type of national health care system, and that since Dr. King's days all sorts of greater systems of injustice have fallen, including segregation, apartheid, the Soviet empire, and colonialism.

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Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.
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Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.

By Anonymous Blue Cross of California, at 6:50 PM  

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