Let’s get back to what health care reform should be about

By Rose Ann DeMoro for the Cleveland Plain Dealer –

From the fabricated “death panels” scares to the traumatized seniors urging legislators to keep the government’s hands “off my Medicare,” it’s apparent that the health care debate has lurched off the rails.

We’ve lost sight of families like Nathan Wilkes’ who, introducing President Barack Obama at a Colorado town hall meeting last week, described their frantic search for new health coverage after losing protection for their 6-year-old son, Thomas, who has hemophilia.

Or Janet Stephens, an emergency room nurse from Anaheim, Calif., with bladder disease who is facing the loss of her home because of monthly out-of-pocket costs of over $1,100 from her insurer.

Or the tens of thousands of other Americans callously and routinely refused needed medical care because their insurer doesn’t want to pay for it — a nightmare scenario Mike Madden of Salon wrote last week are the “death panels [that are] already here.”

Or the half of Americans who are already skipping needed medical care because of the cost. A Commonwealth Fund report Aug. 20 predicts that without reform, insurance premiums will increase another 94 percent by 2010.

How did such a critical reform, and our debate over it, go so badly astray?

In an MSNBC interview last week, Democratic Party consultant Lawrence O’Donnell said the White House erred from the start by paying too much heed to convention wisdom and compromising with themselves.

“They didn’t go for the best bill,” he said, which would have been a single-payer system, essentially expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

The system which even the fiercest critics of Obama’s plan strongly defend, when they demand protection for Medicare.

There’s a reason Americans love Medicare — and probably would love its universal expansion. A Commonwealth Fund study in May found that Medicare enrollees have greater access to care, fewer problems with medical bills and greater satisfaction with their health plans and the quality of care they receive than do customers of private plans.

Further, “elderly Medicare beneficiaries were also significantly more likely to report being very confident that they could get high quality and safe medical care when needed, and very confident that they would be able to afford the care they need.”

Even after all the attacks by Fox News, right-wing policy groups and the insurance industry, a Kaiser Foundation poll released Aug. 19 shows that by a margin of 75 percent to 22 percent, Americans favor expanding Medicare to cover people from age 55 to 64 who do not have health coverage.

Similar national systems, of course, exist in every other industrialized country, the reason the United States lags so far behind most of them in every crucial health care barometer from life span to health disparities to access, to even the much-debated issue of waiting times for care.

O’Donnell, who worked on President Bill Clinton’s failed health plan in 1994, said that his party failed to learn a crucial lesson from the 1994 debacle, that they should have spent the past 15 years preparing for this moment and pressing for the best plan of all — Medicare for all.

Instead, the administration and their allies in Congress chose to negotiate downward from the start, and ended up making concession after concession to conservative opponents likely to oppose any reform plan.

What they ended up with is a muddled message. That’s no surprise for a plan whose central element is a requirement that everyone buy private insurance products, with some subsidies offered to help low income people. This amounts to pass-throughs to the big insurers, and begins to look like another massive corporate bailout to another highly unpopular, wasteful industry.

With last November’s mandate, and sizable majorities in the House and Senate, there’s still time for the administration and Congress to salvage badly needed reform that will be genuinely universal, bring rising costs under control and improve quality.

The House has already committed to a floor vote in September on the option of expanding Medicare to cover everyone. That’s the public option that a majority of the nation’s registered nurses and doctors, those with the most daily experience with our fractured health care system, have long supported as the best way to achieve the promise of reform that started this debate.

Rose Ann DeMoro is executive director of the 86,000-member California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the largest U.S. union of nurses, and a vice president of the AFL-CIO.


  1. Vashti Winterburg on August 28, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Medicare for All can’t come a moment too soon. The non-profit whose board I sit on has just been notified that the cost of our BC/BS policy will increase by 21% this year, despite the fact that only 10% of our work force can afford the plan to begin with.
    Every time I see the latest plan for saving money on health care I think, “yeah, but it doesn’t matter how much is saved, the insurance companies are just going to stuff the savings in their pockets. Policy holders will never see a dime of it in reduced premiums.”
    Every day that I open my newspaper I wonder how much the administration and Congress have given away to the insurance companies and Big Pharma today. It’s clear that they’ve been bought, the only thing left is to settle on the price.
    In the mean time, I encourage everyone to organize demonstrations for single payer, especially at Republican town hall meetings. We need as much push back against the lies and brown shirt tactics as we can generate.
    Vashti Winterburg, Kansas Health Care for All, Lawrence, Kansas
    We’re paying for a Cadillac! Why are we driving a Yugo?! H.R.676!

  2. Frank Valdez on September 1, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with sister DeMoro. The Obama Administration and Congress have failed the American people miserable with the so-called debate on healthcare reform. (Oops, I meant health insurance reform)
    The President and Congress have also failed to acknowledge the fact that our healthcare crisis was caused by the greed of the HMOs and other healthcare corporations! Thus 20,000 Americans die annually from either being denied coverage or rejected for needed treatments!
    With this in mind WHY are the HMOs even allowed to participate in the discussion? These agents of “free market” have shown they cannot be trusted and that their sole priority is PROFIT, not quality healthcare!
    Personally the struggle for healthcare reform has reinforced my belief that a viable, non-corporate cosntrolled, third party is in order!