Ever feel like you're on a hamster wheel, going around and around? Expending energy, feeling exhausted and having no where to go except back on the wheel? Happy New Year - my co-pays just went up. Perhaps you had your deductibles raised or lost health benefits entirely. Perhaps you're one of the millions who went into bankruptcy from medical bills. Or, like people in communities across the country, perhaps you're holding a fundraiser to help a friend with bills because of an unforeseen illness or injury. Life happens, the health-care crisis worsens and politicians continue discussing the situation, promoting "reform" of the system. What if we just want to get off the hamster wheel and actually go somewhere else? As a public-health department, we are charged with assuring basic health services to all members of our community.
One way is providing direct service to those who can't afford or access health care.
Another way is advocating for policy change. "Everybody in, nobody out" is a basic tenet of the universal single-payer system. So is prevention, another core charge of public health. Unlike our current system, a single-payer system encourages investment in preventive care that ultimately lowers societal cost of chronic-disease care and over-use of emergency rooms.
Public-health agencies see first hand the inequities and cost inefficiencies of our current "system." One third of every health-care dollar is spent on administrative costs, including paperwork, denying care. Largely by using existing resources without this waste, a single-payer system would produce the savings needed to cover everyone. Uniform benefits with comprehensive care under single payer would bring fairness. And why not wield our collective clout in negotiating volume discounts for prescription drugs?
A few other carrots: There is choice. Most private plans restrict what doctors, other caregivers or hospital you can use. Under a single-payer system, patients have a choice with the provider assured fair reimbursement.
There is freedom: Single-payer health coverage goes with you even if you lose or change your job. There is autonomy: Caregivers and patients make decisions about what's best for a patient's health, not what's dictated by the insurance company.
In looking at potential solutions, it's good to ask "will it fix the problem?" Single payer does. Do the other tweaks, reforms and "expansions" that have been proposed. Getting off a hamster wheel is just the first step. The next is identifying our reason for always returning to it instead of going where we want to go. If the cage is still there, we can't truly move in a new direction. Last year at this time, a politician inspired individuals with a hopeful, simple, collective call: Yes, we can. He accomplished what many said they only dreamed could happen. Can collective, positive public will inspire the political will necessary to accomplish what many dream can happen?
A New Year's wish: "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it. Begin it now." Johann Wolfgang Von GoetheVoice your thoughts to Obama's health-care team: change.gov/agenda/health_care_agenda/ and Rep. John Salazar at: www.house.gov/salazar or 375-3264.
Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.