COMMENTARY: Health care reform: Are we destined to repeat the past?

Since the early 1900s, our country has attempted to pass legislation that would provide quality and affordable health care for every citizen. After nearly a century of well-intended efforts, all have failed to provide legislation for a universal health insurance system. After the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, both single-payer insurance systems, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Martha Griffith proposed a universal national single-payer system that would cover every American citizen. Opposition from the health insurance industry forced changes to the bill, resulting in higher costs, and failed to cover every citizen. Two decades ago, President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton proposed the Clinton Health Plan. Although they considered a universal single-payer system that would cover all Americans, they instead gave in, allowing health insurance to be financed through a multi-tiered system run by insurance companies. It was fundamentally a disastrous plan, unable to deliver on its promises. The proposal never even came up for a vote in Congress. After nearly a century of waiting, the unremitting failure to achieve universal health insurance has become an American tragedy. In this upcoming 2016 presidential election, we have another opportunity. There are three alternatives: the Republicans wish to repeal Obamacare without providing an alternative plan; Secretary Clinton wants to add onto and try to fix Obamacare, our already failed system; Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to enact a Medicare-for-All single-payer system. Although Obamacare enacted in 2010 has reduced the number of the uninsured, there are still 33 million people with no health insurance and another 31 million who are underinsured. Being inadequately insured is like being uninsured because what good is having insurance if you can’t afford to use it? The cost of the premiums and having to pay out-of-pocket deductibles, which have risen seven times faster than wages, plus the co-pays, makes the cost of medical care unaffordable and the insurance therefore ineffective. It is no wonder that 40,000 people die each year as a result of not being able to see their doctor. Also, prescription medications’ costs have risen out of control, as well as hospital costs. Obamacare can’t achieve universal coverage; it won’t make medical care affordable or protect against medical bankruptcy — nor will it be possible to control costs. We remain the only advanced nation in the world that insists as a matter of national policy on rationing health care by the ability to pay. Sen. Sanders disputes the notion that medical care should remain a commodity afforded by wealth, rather than a common good or right. He endorses a Medicare-for-All program that has been irrefutably proven to be the vaccine that saves lives and costs. It is time for our country to join every other major nation and recognize that health care is a right of all citizens. After a century of waiting, let’s make certain that this presidential election won’t be another missed opportunity.

Philip Pollner, MD


Editor’s Note: Dr. Philp Pollner is Chair of the Delaware Alliance for Health Care. He was awarded Special Recognition Nobel Peace Prize 1985, Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Pollner identified with the aspirations of Robert Kennedy and organized a medical clinic for the poor in the Mississippi Delta. He was featured as the Good Samaritan in Time magazine (1971). He practices medicine in Newark.
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