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Debating Health Care in 2008

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A picture named science.gifI hope the Republicans come prepared to debate health care this year, and they leave the platitudes and slogans at home.

Enough of us have been seriously sick, or know someone who has, or have family members who have been or are now. The way the Republicans describe health care, it's as if they've never been through it or don't know anyone who has.

I got some pushback, not much, from a casual mention of universal health care a few days ago. Some think the problem can be solved through the "private sector" but that's nonsense. There is no such thing in health care. It's not a free market, as anyone who's been through it can tell you. There's nothing free about it. (Free as in freedom, not as in free beer.)

When you check into a hospital you turn over your whole being to the health care system. I can't imagine anything changing that, nor do I think it should. When you're dangerously ill, decisions must be made about you. To people who have never relinquished control, it's a big trip, because that's what you have to do. You spend huge amounts of time waiting. You can't sleep because hospitals are 24-by-7. You're much more likely to get an infection in a hospital, and infection on top of other disease can kill. Even so, people are treated and some even are cured by the system. Lives are definitely prolonged, pain is eased.

Whether we have universal health care or not, it won't change the basics of how health care works, and how unfair it is to be sick and fighting for your life. But there are some things we can change, and if you have a heart, and think about it, I don't see how anyone could be against universal health care and still sleep at night.

One commenter said that no one is ever turned away from an emergency room, as if that's all there was to health care. First, emergency rooms do turn people away, and some of them die. But most disease is not treated in emergency rooms. If you need drugs to treat cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, AIDS, heart disease, depression, arthritis, emphysema, to name a few common chronic diseases -- you're out of luck if you don't have insurance. You could die years before you would with treatment, or might suffer, where if you had good insurance, you wouldn't.

I'm lucky I have good health insurance. It's lucky that I lived in Massachusetts when my COBRA policy expired, it's the one state in the US that has liberalized health insurance. I'm lucky that I can afford the monthly payments. I'm lucky. But why should getting the care and treatment you need depend on luck? We can do so much better. And I think our country would do better with a healthy population that knows if they, or someone they love, got sick they'll the help they need.

It'll be interesting to see if we can get McCain to talk about this, if he turns out to be the Republcan nominee. The Republicans have never been responslble about this issue. It's of huge importance to Americans, and McCain presents himself as an honest person. He must understand how the health care system actually works. He's been through it himself, probably many times.

BTW, Hillary's passion for computerizing medical records is a good thing. She's right, a lot of money could be saved, the system could be made much more efficient, people would get better treatment, and lives would be saved. The sooner we get busy doing this, the better it will be for all of us.

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