04/25/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Health Reform: Make Your Voice Heard

If you were told Congress has an opportunity to pass a bill that will help American citizens AND reduce the federal deficit, wouldn't you want your legislators to pass it?

Health care reform will actually accomplish both.

Today our health care costs average $8,000 per person -- a shockingly high amount when compared to other countries. Health reform will make preventive care more accessible and will begin to halt the astronomical rise of health care and insurance premiums. Cost savings -- and preventive health care for more people -- will help bring down the federal deficit.

If you are in favor of health reform, there are specific, easy steps you can take to show your support. If you need no more convincing, please jump to the last third of this blog to the "Take Action" section.

If you're still on the fence, then here are some of the concerned-about-reform comments I hear at meetings:

But anyone can get care in an emergency room if they really need it.
We citizens ultimately pay for this "charity care" through our taxes, and delivery of health care in an emergency setting is unnecessarily expensive. Emergency rooms need specialized equipment and specially-trained medical staff. Care given earlier in an illness in a doctor's office or at a clinic is better for the patient and for the public pocketbook. For example, the diabetic needs regular meds and treatment. The patient's quality of life is better, and it saves the American taxpayer from absorbing care for a diabetic-related crisis.

Dr. Margaret Lewin, medical director of Cinergy Health, a nationwide health insurance benefits provider based in Miami, FL ( takes her emphasis on this issue a step farther: "Preventing illness is the single most important and cost-effective way to improve the healthcare of the American public. This means that we must increase our investment in primary care and invest in community resources to enhance nutrition and bring more physical activity into our activities of daily life."

But this bill -- the Senate bill or Obama's new proposal -- isn't what we need...
A year ago, legislators were working toward the "perfect" bill, but given all that has transpired, we just need to get going. Consider this a "rough draft" if you will. Legislation is frequently passed and later amended. The health care bill will be no different. It is too complex to think otherwise.

(The proposal made by Obama on Monday, February 22, can be found on the White House website:

But right now I have insurance, and I don't think the country should be spending all this money on the poor.
The status quo cannot remain, and your own situation may not remain stable. Insurance premiums are going to continue to go up, even if no legislation is passed. You may find your employer may decide not to offer health insurance any more, or they pass along to you the extra expense of coverage. Those who have to buy insurance on the private market may not be able to afford it any longer. Many more people may face personal bankruptcy because of medical expenses.

But people who go bankrupt are just irresponsible.

Do you know that a good number of the people who have to declare bankruptcy because of overwhelming medical costs are people who have health insurance?

Of the personal bankruptcies that are declared each year, 62 percent of those are medically-related; a shocking 78 percent of those people had some level of health insurance at the start of their illness. (Source: Business Week, June 4, 2009.)

Bottom line: You can go broke paying medical bills EVEN WITH INSURANCE. Think about that before you go to sleep tonight.

An unfortunate diagnosis for you or a family member followed by months or years of costly treatment and medicines can put people over any limits on their coverage. Or the insurance company may find a reason to rescind your coverage, leaving you without the safety net you thought you had.

But even if they pass it, it won't go into effect in time to help me.
The health care bill being discussed will IMMEDIATELY place some limits on insurance companies such as barring their ability to "rescind" your insurance coverage. They will also no longer be allowed to place a maximum figure on what they will pay. (What is an individual to do if he or she hits that maximum--wipe out one's savings?)

No co-pay will be charged on preventive care--another good idea. It benefits us all if people stay healthy. Many other provisions will be phased in over time.

The current bill that passed the Senate will provide coverage for 30 million more Americans--not the 46 million who lack coverage---but it's a start.

Dr. Lewin adds that to improve our care health care, reform measures need to immediately expand the use of technology for medical records: "In order to cut duplication and waste and to decrease errors, we must invest heavily in medical information systems." In a day when almost everyone uses computers, and many of us can access our personal files via the web, why are doctors still handwriting our medical information? That information should travel with us in some form---it could make the difference between life and death.

Take Action
If ever there was a time to speak up, that time is now.

Call your representatives' local offices. I live in Westchester County; Nita Lowey has a Mamaroneck office where a live human answers the phone. When I call, the person will note down who I am and take my message; and later that day Nita Lowey will get a tally of what citizens are saying. It matters. (Phone calls are more effective than e-mail.)

I'll also call both my senators. As readers may know, my Congressional representatives are pro-reform but they need to hear from me anyway. If they feel their constituents really want them to "get it done," they may make an extra phone call to a colleague or in some way work harder for passage.

The phone numbers you need are in your local telephone directory--or on the web. (Senators have offices all over their states. If you can't get through on one line, try a phone number in a different town. It all gets reported.)

And call the White House. You'll get a recording, but someone transcribes and tabulates the opinions left there, too. 202-456-1111 (9-5 EST) (Go figure... a telephone line with a tape has "hours?" That's a subject for another day.)
Your legislators are there to represent YOU; let them know how you feel. How often should you call? Some people are calling daily.

We are the only industrialized nation that does not provide basic health care for our citizens.

Your Congressional representatives are given excellent health insurance coverage.

Don't regular citizens deserve coverage that is just as good?

I'll return to my more history-related blogs on Thursday. Tonight I'm going to a screening of a film made in the 1930s about "Negro education in the South." So controversial was the making of the film at that time that the cameramen were arrested as "subversives." The film was only recently re-discovered in the Rockefeller Archives, so I will report back on this "premiere."

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