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Elizabeth on Healthcare

I didn’t much care for Michael Moore’s film Sicko. I thought it was too heavy handed and, in the case of his information about the National Health System in Great Britain, actually misleading. As a novelist who writes exclusively about Great Britain, I’ve spent a great deal of time there, and it doesn’t take much reading of British newspapers to know that the NHS isn’t working the way Michael Moore depicted it: happy doctors making adequate salaries and patients who wait thirty minutes or less to see those happy doctors. Indeed, often what one reads in the London papers are stories of the poor souls who died waiting three or four years to have surgeries that you could have within weeks here in the U.S. For this reason, most of the people whom I know in England have private insurance and go to private hospitals for their care. They do not rely on the NHS.

Beyond that, though, I thought a lot of Sicko was irritating in its presentation, with Michael Moore asking all-too-obvious questions of the people he was interviewing, just in case the audience out there wasn’t going to be able to get his point about health care in the United States. I don’t like that sort of thing, generally. God knows I might not be the freshest sandwich in the picnic basket, but I’m not entirely stupid.

On the other hand, I agreed whole-heartedly with the major premise of his film: The health care system in the U.S. stinks, and its odor seems to get worse every year. Frankly, I think that could apply to a lot of critical programs in the U.S., but let’s keep it at health care for the moment.

What I believe about health care is pretty simple: I believe that the richest country on earth—that would be the U.S.—ought to provide health care for its citizens, especially when it’s asking its citizens to fork over piles of cash in taxes for the government to spend as the government sees fit. To me, this is simply a no-brainer since a healthy population is going to be far more productive than an unhealthy population. I also believe that the richest country on earth should see it as a sacred responsibility especially to provide health care for those who cannot under any conceivable circumstances provide it for themselves: infants, children, the poor, the homeless, the psychologically scarred, the battle-wounded, the psychiatrically incapable, and the elderly infirm. As a matter of fact, I don’t think health care ought to be a profit-making industry at all since the obvious way to make a profit in an industry designed to give something to people is simply not to give it to them, or to give them inadequate service or goods, or to deny it to them altogether for one reason or another. The profits made by insurance companies, for example, are accrued through two means: through the insurance company betting on the general health of those it covers (i.e. “we’ll insure them but they’ll probably not ever need catastrophic coverage so we’ll make a profit from their monthly payments”) and, failing that, through denying claims presented to them by the people it covers.

At the present time, the system of health care in the U.S.—such as it is—doesn’t appear to be working particularly well when one considers how many people are uninsured and are left depending upon emergency rooms to take care of them should there be a crisis.

Now in my case, throughout my life I have seen doctors as seldom as possible—having a lifelong aversion to anything that puts me in targeting range of a hypodermic needle—and as a child, I rarely needed to see doctors at all. It wasn’t that I was a miracle of health, though. It was that my mom was a registered nurse, and she considered herself fully capable of handling nearly everything that came up. She knew what to do about chicken pox, measles, the flu, common colds, incursions into poison ivy, fevers, coughs…You name it and that lady could deal with it. Short of broken bones—which she could and did splint but not set—and anything requiring a prescription or stitches, she was cool, calm, and capable. Luckily for me and for my family, when I had to visit the doctor on those rare occasions that something actually came up which my mom felt uneasy about dealing with, my visits to the doctor were free because, when I was thirteen year old, my mom returned to work as a nurse and the doctor she worked for saw the families of all his employees without charge. This was a pretty sweet deal, so we were careful not to take advantage of it.

It’s my opinion that you gauge a country’s greatness by what it does for its people not what it does to its people: how it educates them, how it safeguards them in times of natural disasters, how it maintains the quality of their air and food and water and roads and environment, how it ensures that unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the innocent are dealt with appropriately. I think you also gauge a country’s greatness by how it reaches out to help other countries when such help is needed and requested. Great countries thus do not turn their backs on anyone. Great countries extend their arms.

How I feel right now can be expressed rather simply: I’m absolutely desperate for a leader who embodies that particular frame of mind that I’ve described above. It has been missing in our country, I believe, for far too long. To my way of thinking, it’s been missing since at least 1980, and I believe that twenty-eight years is long enough to wander in a wilderness in which people have been encouraged to believe that “health care for all” is somehow synonymous with the country collapsing in a shuddering heap into socialism.

I wanted to see how Senator John McCain feels about health care because I wasn’t able to ascertain his beliefs on this subject from watching the Republican National Convention. I looked on VoteSmart.org and followed a few trails. This is what I uncovered. I ask you only to read it, to pause, and to think about what Senator McCain’s votes on health issues imply about Senator McCain the man who would be our President:

June 22, 2000: Senator McCain voted NO on an amendment to provide prescription drugs to patients through Medicare.

June 29, 2000: Senator McCain voted NO on a bill to allow patients to sue health care insurers in court if they are denied benefits. This was also a vote of NO to allow patients to see specialists outside of their network doctors.

June 29, 2000: Senator McCain voted NO on an amendment to prevent Medicare and Social Security benefits from being moved and used for other purposes.

June 27, 2003: Senator McCain again voted NO on a bill to add prescription drug benefits to Medicare.

October 27, 2005: Senator McCain voted NO to increase funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

November 3, 2005: Senator McCain voted NO to provide emergency health care to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

November 7, 2007: Senator McCain voted NO on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which allows states to provide health care assistance to children of eligible parents.

His votes concern me because of what they say about his priorities. These have been the priorities of his Party for far too long, I think. These priorities have caused distress to a lot of ordinary people, people unlike me whose moms do not work for doctors who will provide them with free health care.

Here where I live on Whidbey Island, we have a group called Friends of Friends. This group was started to help people with their medical bills and with other bills related to their medical care. We also have a group called Hearts and Hammers that, once a year, organizes volunteers who fan into the community and repair people’s houses. We also have a food bank called Good Cheer, a thrift store that supports that food bank, a back-to-school program for disadvantaged kids to get their school supplies, a Christmas Holiday House for families in difficulty to “buy” presents for their children, an active land conservancy group to protect the island from development, and a no-kill animal shelter. This is, in short, an unusual place to live. While I am a contributor to all of these groups, I find it a compelling commentary upon our times that such groups have to exist in the first place in a country in which billions upon billions of dollars are poured into the manufacture of weapons—guns, bombs, missiles, etc.—while infant mortality rises, tuberculosis returns, cancer eats away lives, and AIDS ravages part of the population. This tells me that somehow priorities became skewed along the way. This tells me that we need an alteration in the course we’re taking.

I think everyone has to consider the issues before voting. I think everyone has to ask the hard questions, both of themselves and of their candidates. We have to ask ourselves what we owe our own individual generations and what we owe the generations to come. When we’re driving our cars and the cars begin to drift to the side of the road, we make a correction. It should be no different for a country.

- Elizabeth George
Whidbey Island, Washington


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