Health care: crisis or opportunity?

Forum examines issue

Joy Slagowski
Daily News-Sun
March 11, 2009

A health-care expert said Tuesday night there is one way to receive comprehensive medical treatment: Go to jail.

"Prisoners are the only people in this country who receive quality care as the result of their constitutional rights," said Dr. Jonathan Weisbuch,-founder of Arizona Coalition for a State and National Health Plan and former director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. "(Maricopa County Sheriff Joe) Arpaio and Maricopa County spend over $20 million a year to serve health needs of people in jail. It's an extraordinary situation."

Weisbuch and Rep. Phil Lopes, D-District 27,-author of the Arizona Health Security Act, discussed "The Broken Healthcare System: Crisis or Opportunity" during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Northwest Maricopa County. The event took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Surprise. About 50 people attended the session co-sponsored by the Daily News-Sun.

With the economy in crisis and people losing their jobs, the health-care crisis worsens as more people become uninsured, Weisbuch said.

"And 30 percent of Americans are considered uninsurable if they were to buy insurance individually, because of pre-existing conditions," Weisbuch said.

Health-care costs have increased at a rate of three times the national inflation rate since 1970, he said.

So health-care reform goals need to focus on access to quality care for everyone and adequate reimbursement for medically necessary care, he said.

Weisbuch advocates for HR 676, also known as Conyers Bill, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

The bill is considered Medicare for all, where patients choose their own doctor and a trust fund pays for care.

Critics call single-payer plans such as the Conyers Bill socialized medicine, but Weisbuch said there are already four socialized medical systems in place in this country: the Department of Defense health system, the veterans health system, Indian health services and the Bureau of Prisons health services.

Lopes said the number of uninsured residents in Arizona is 20 percent of the population.

He has proposed a state plan, based on a plan that New Mexico has been working on for years, to create a 15-member commission to operate the health care for the state and redistribute the money in the system.

"All of the money we are paying out of pocket in co-pays, premiums, what employers are paying for employees, all add up to $30 billion in Arizona," Lopes said. "We could provide health care for everyone in the state for $30 billion."

After the meeting, Shirley McAllister of Sun City said she has been a supporter of single-payer health plans since her late husband fought cancer for 20 years and was covered by three different plans.

"We had Medicare, insurance from his university, insurance from my university, and it took so much time and effort to handle the paperwork,"" McAllister said.

"And I thought, if I am having a tough time, how would those with a high school education or less ever keep things straight? That's when I became a believer," McAllister said.

Joy Slagowski may be reached at 623-876-2514 or