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Health care debate a dull but worthwhile topic

By Charles McMahon
Opinion column, Seacoastonline.com (N.H.), Feb. 28, 2011

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- Health care is not sexy.

The ongoing debate over health care coverage lacks all of the necessary components of what I would consider to be a sexy and spicy news story. Not only does it lack elements of mystery and suspense, but there is very little room for intrigue and excitement.

Unlike an occasional crime story or investigative report, issues pertaining to health care rarely seem to drum up a lot of interest and almost never end up in the newspaper's online most-viewed list.

In other words, a headline that reads "Health care plan explained" doesn't necessarily jump off the page and suck readers in.

While I'll be the first to acknowledge my lack of excitement when asked to cover something related to health care, that doesn't necessarily mean I don't understand and appreciate its importance and the place it has in the news.

I doubt many readers would argue against the fact that making health care affordable and accessible are perhaps some of the most important issues facing Americans today.

I think the more than 50 Seacoast residents who showed up to the public library Wednesday night for a presentation called Health Care Reform in 2011 and Beyond would agree with me.

The need for a conversation on further reform in the area of health care was made very evident this week in Portsmouth.

On one front, you had Dr. Thomas Clairmont asking the City Council to endorse debate on a movement to create a single-payer system.

In his plea to the city, Clairmont said the move could save the city some major money given the fact that insurance premiums have risen on average over 10 percent every year since 2000.

Having practiced medicine in Portsmouth since 1980, Clairmont said if nothing is done now, the rate of increase, compounding every year, will bring Portsmouth taxpayers a health care bill of $40.4 million in 2020 and $127 million in 2030.

The city could hit $1 billion for health care in 2050, according to Clairmont.

Katie Robbins, national organizer for Healthcare-NOW!, was in Portsmouth as well this week, helping promote the passage of the national, single-payer health care legislation.

Robbins said Portsmouth was perfect for the debate because of how progressive the community is. Not only would the single-payer system allow for universal and guaranteed health coverage for all U.S. citizens, but it would also provide for comprehensive health coverage filled with choices and would be good for the economy, Robbins said.

Currently, nearly one-third of all Americans are either uninsured or underinsured, Robbins said, adding that the proposed system would help solve that problem.

While I don't proclaim to know everything about health care, I think ideas like creating a single-payer system may have some merit.

Perhaps we've reached a point in society where we have no other choice but to look outside of the box and consider all options.

I think City Councilor Bob Lister said it best when he stood up before the crowd of people Wednesday night and proclaimed the so-called fixed costs were a major speed bump in developing a fiscally responsible budget.

"It diverts our mission," he said.

Lister said he attended the event because he knew it was time to look at other options. He should be applauded for that.

Portsmouth Herald reporter Charles McMahon can be reached at 570-2234 or cmcmahon@seacoastonline.com.