Posted on November 7, 2006

Seeking Coverage For All


Op-Ed | Hartford Courant
October 31 2006

Last April, a government-sponsored task force came to Hartford to hear citizens’ views on how to improve our distressed health care system. As in nearly all states visited, Connecticut citizens overwhelmingly said they wanted high-quality, cost-effective health care funded through a national health program - single payer health insurance. Yet, such a recommendation would threaten the profits of powerful interests - insurance and drug companies known more for their political contributions than for their consideration of public interest. So in its final report of Sept. 27, the Citizens’ Health Care Working Group simply ignored the citizens.

The working group, a panel of health care experts appointed by the U.S. Comptroller General, was created by Congress in 2003. The group was mandated to travel the country, seek citizens’ advice for reform, and translate their wishes into recommendations for Congress. Wherever they went, ordinary citizens consistently asked for national health insurance. In fact, the group’s own data show attendees favored a national health program over any other option by an average of 3 to 1.

Connecticut ranked national health insurance first over the nine possible reforms by and average of 26 to 1. From Los Angeles to Memphis to New York, the message was the same: replace our broken system with the same public coverage for everyone.

Yet the final recommendations to Congress make no mention of the national health program citizens chose. Instead, they offer half-measures while leaving the flawed private insurance structure untouched. Unfortunately for those families facing a choice between utility payments and medical bills, the working group’s best suggestion is to ask taxpayers to help them buy deficient insurance products that offer little or no protection when serious illness strikes.

As Connecticut health caregivers, we can see why national health insurance enjoyed such overwhelming public support. One in nine Connecticut citizens - 394,000 people - lacked health insurance in 2005. Even for those wealthy or healthy enough to afford coverage, the private policies offered are so riddled with exclusions, co-payments, and high deductibles that any major illness can threaten a family with financial ruin.

By contrast, numerous studies demonstrate the benefits of creating a national health insurance system like that proposed by Physicians for a National Health Program: private insurance companies would be replaced with a single public payer - “Medicare for All,” saving more than $300 billion annually by eliminating insurers’ administrative costs and profits, and negotiating prescription drug costs. These savings would be enough to cover every American for all medically necessary services. Patients would regain full choice of health caregiver freed from corporate constraints on patient care.

In fact, we proposed this single payer option to the Connecticut General Assembly in our Health Care Security Act of 1999. We argued that just as Social Security had successfully begun as an experiment in one state, a publicly-funded insurance plan could also begin in one state. And what better state than small and wealthy Connecticut? Unfortunately, that bill and its most recent version in the last legislative session died in committee.

Indeed, the Citizens’ Health Care Working Group report reaffirms that Connecticut’s citizens will have to look beyond our current elected officials to make our voices heard.

But what hope do we have for change in the upcoming elections? Not much.

Despite ongoing lip service by Democratic and Republican candidates for “universal coverage,” only Green Party candidates like gubernatorial contender Cliff Thornton explicitly support the wishes of Connecticut citizens for publicly-funded health insurance.

Yet, most Connecticut voters won’t know that Thornton and other Greens represent their views on November’s ballot. Just as Connecticut citizens’ support for single-payer insurance was “omitted” from the Citizens Health Care Working Group Report, candidates who most represent their views have also been “omitted” from expressing them - at least in televised gubernatorial debates.

Sadly, the proposals of the working group and Connecticut’s Democratic and Republican candidates offer nothing but business as usual: insurance and drug firms reaping kingly profits while so many go without needed care.

Still, Connecticut’s citizens know only public health insurance can provide the health security we all need.

John Battista is a psychiatrist in private practice in New Milford with Justine McCabe, who is a clinical psychologist. They are members of the Green Party.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant