Not all health care systems are created equal

By Ann Troy, M.D.
Pacific Sun (San Rafael, Calif.), Letters, Aug. 7, 2014

Congress created Medicare 49 years ago to provide seniors with health care, protection against financial ruin and peace of mind. All you needed was proof of age, citizenship (or legal residency) and you were covered. It was so simple and straightforward that all seniors were enrolled in six months, in the pre-computer era—using index cards!

Congress could have and should have extended Medicare to cover all Americans, creating a single-payer system with free choice of doctors and hospitals. Instead, they passed the hopelessly complex Affordable Care Act with its malfunctioning websites and uneven coverage. It has kept the wasteful and bureaucratic insurance industry in health care, wreaked havoc on the health care system, left millions uninsured and millions more with woefully inadequate coverage.

It could be argued that by not extending Medicare to cover all Americans, the government is not providing equal protection under the law.

It is well known that people without insurance or with high deductibles wait longer to seek medical care, thus, their illnesses or problems become more difficult to treat. They suffer more from injuries and disabilities, resulting in decreased productivity and poorer quality of life. They face financial hardships or ruin (50 percent of bankruptcies in the United States are due to medical debt). And, sometimes they die because they have no insurance (an estimated 50,000 every year).

Those with Medicare have more protection against the devastating effects of illness and injury, get more help overcoming or living with disabilities and are protected against financial ruin.

"Equal protection" has been used, with some success, to improve access to education and to allow same-sex couples to marry. It seems that an even stronger case can be made regarding access to health care -— which is considered a right in every other developed nation.

Dr. Ann Troy resides in San Anselmo.