For most of this summer, we've heard both sides of the health care debate. President Obama has made reform a top priority of his first-year agenda as he tries to push a government health care option through the system. There has been vocal opposition to his plans, though, as we've seen passionate - and often angry - demonstrations against a public option. I really wonder if they are railing against health care, or just doing whatever possible to undermine a Democratic president. I don't mind disagreements about the plan, but there is a civil way to handle these debates.
But simmering below the angry debate are real stories of Americans hurting due to our jumbled health system. WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh last month featured Heather Sherba, a local 22-year-old woman who was seriously injured during the LA Fitness shooting rampage that left three women dead. Because she had just graduated from college and had not yet found a job (who has in this economic climate?) she was uninsured and, therefore, responsible for the hospital bills. Rachel Maddow discussed the issue on her MSNBC show recently. Family and friends held a car wash to raise money, and they received about $500. But that is hardly enough to pay for the entire medical expenses. I imagine she will sue the gunman's estate, but how much will she receive? What this shows, though, is a system that has too many cracks and needs to be changed.
I, too, have no health insurance because I lost my job. I have considered using Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) insurance, but obviously that is very expensive. Although the government will now pick up 65 percent of the tab, I still must pay about $145 a month to retain the coverage. That is a difficult decision when you do not have a full-time job while still be required to pay full-time bills. Hopefully I will remain healthy.
Some will say stories like these pull at our emotions and should have no bearing on the debate. I think they're wrong. Sherba's story illustrates the problems with our system. Although some will disagree, I believe it shows that health insurance should be a right, and not a privilege. How can anyone think differently in the wealthiest country on Earth?
I understand there are serious political undercurrents with every decision, and this issue should not be rushed. But there clearly needs to be a new system. I will leave you with an hour-long PBS Frontline special on what it means to be "Sick around America" and let you decide.
UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. - Just found another Frontline video about how several nations across the world handle health care. They are vastly different as "Sick around the world" exposes the positives and negatives of each system. I strongly encourage everyone to watch these two programs to have a better understanding of our own system and those elsewhere in the world.
(The political cartoon above was drawn in 1994 by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It doesn't seem like much has changed in 15 years.)
4 days ago