It would not be the end of health reform, just a chance to get it right

By Rose Ann DeMoro for the Huffington Post

If President Obama is now confiding to Democratic donors that he may have to “revisit” health care in a second term if the Supreme Court throws out his first attempt, as Bloomberg News reported June 1, maybe this time we can get it right.

Instead of trying to dress up our broken private insurance-based system, or resuscitating elements of a convoluted plan the court may overturn, it’s time to try something different.

Fortunately, we have a well established, uniquely American model in place, one that meets the legal test. A program that already takes care of the 40 million Americans over 65. That has the added benefits of being universal in coverage and far more cost efficient than our present system.

Nurses rally for Medicare for all and a tax on Wall Street to help pay for it in Chicago May 18

It’s called Medicare. And it’s been working well for nearly 50 years, and remains wildly popular, even among those hate “Obamacare.”

How do we fix our health care system? Easy, and we don’t need 2,700 pages either. Just open up Medicare to cover everyone, regardless of age.

It’s a step we should take, no matter how the court rules.

Even if the law is upheld, some 27 million Americans would remain uninsured by 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office, families will continue to struggle with rising out-of-pocket health costs and un-payable medical bills and more employers will drop coverage or shift more costs to employees.

Can our nation stand another fight over health care reform? The better question is, can we afford not to?

Over the past year, nurses have seen an alarming nexus between the economic decline and broad erosions in health status, such as stress-induced heart ailments, anxiety and “gut” disorders, health woes associated with poor nutrition, and illnesses traditionally seen in adults increasingly found in children. Nurses now routinely see patients skipping or delaying not just routine medical visits, but even cancer treatment and other life-saving or life prolonging care due to cost.

A library of surveys and studies document these worrisome trends.

A Centers for Disease Control analysis found a quarter of children age 17 and under were in families struggling to pay medical bills.

In 2010, 30 million Americans were contacted by debt collection companies chasing them to pay medical bills, a jump of 5 million people in just half a decade, the Commonwealth Fund reported. Unpaid bills as small as $250 were ruining credit records for many. Medical bills account for 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, and nearly 80 percent who went broke from health care had insurance.

Fifty million Americans still have no health coverage. Another 29 million are under insured with massive holes in their health plans, an increase of 80 percent since 2003, according to the journal Health Affairs.

What do they do for care? They suffer in silence, until it hurts so bad they go to where it is most expensive, the emergency room. A February report by the Pew Center on the States recorded a 16 percent in the number of people going to the ER for dental care.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey last December found a majority of those uninsured or with poor coverage delaying needed care, and 75 percent of the unemployed or under employed skipping dental checkups or recommended medical treatment or tests or not filling prescriptions.

Those boasts about how we have the best medical system in the world need a re-write, the best perhaps based on ability to pay. As a nation, we spend twice per person as much as many countries for health care, but get far less. We’re falling farther behind other countries in life expectancy, infant mortality, waits for care, costs for doctor visits, surgeries, and prescription drugs, and health care well-being for our children.

If you want to stew over just one sobering statistic, consider this: According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranks behind more than 40 other countries in death rates for child-bearing women.

What distinguishes us is that virtually all those other countries have some form of coordinated national health care system, like our Medicare. We have private insurance companies whose prime directive is earning profits for their investors, not guaranteeing patients get the care they need when they need it.

Let’s take that mulligan on health care reform and do a make over. Just as we fought to provide retirement security, including health care for everyone over 65, we can make the same effort for the rest of our nation. There’s no time to lose.