08/16/2009 02:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Native Americans Prepared Themselves for Life and Death

When it comes to reforming the mess we euphemistically call "health care" the biggest obstacle is MONEY. One would have had to live in a cave in Montana not to know that there is something very wrong with America's health care system.

You don't have to be a Republican, Democrat, or an Independent to understand that when there are 47 million people living in a country that likes to brag about having the "best health care system in the world" do not have health insurance, we have a real problem.

The daily assault upon the proposed health care plan set forth by the Barack Obama administration by radio talk show hosts has reached a fever pitch. Led by Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh, and fed by the people calling their shows to echo the opinions of the hosts, the distortions of the actual health proposals have become laughable. First, the radio shows used a clever but age-old ploy and began calling health care reform "Obamacare." Put the onus on the President of the United States and stand back.

So far I have not heard one person without health insurance attack the president's health care plan. You can bet that those making the most noise are all fully covered with fat health insurance policies. Besides the conservative radio talk show hosts there are insurance companies, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies up to their necks in spending millions to stop the very idea of health care for all Americans. There are about five lobbyists for every member of Congress on Capitol Hill, not only lobbying to gain the support of these elected officials in voting against Obama's health care plan, but contributing millions into the campaign coffers of these elected officials. This, we must suppose, is the American way.

Let's take a look at what they are saying.

Number one: President Obama does not want to euthanize your grandma. His plan offers senior citizens access to a professional medical counselor to provide them with information on preparing a living will and on other issues that come up near the end of life. In the old culture of Native Americans, the elders not only prepared themselves to live, but they also prepared themselves to die.

Number two: Democrats are going to do away with private insurance and force you on to a government run plan. Actually, the Obama plan would increase your choices of insurance companies not decrease them. And if you are happy with your present coverage, you can keep it.

Number three: Obama wants to implement socialized medicine. Obama's reform will do away with some of the aspects of rationing health care such as discrimination for pre-existing conditions, insurers who cancel coverage when you get seriously ill, gender discrimination, and lifetime and yearly limits on coverage.

Number four: Obama is secretly planning to cut Medicare benefits. Reform plans will not cut Medicare benefits. It will save money by cutting billions in overpayment to insurance companies and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. These reforms are a badly needed.

Number five: Obama's health care plan will bankrupt America. The bailouts of the banks and auto industry nearly did that without Obama's help. Actually, America needs health care reform now in order to prevent bankruptcy. The rising cost of health care is bankrupting individuals and families, small businesses and is dragging down the American economy. We now spend $2 trillion per year on health care and it is projected that the average family premium for health care will rise to more than $22,000 in the next decade. Who can afford that?

The shouting matches at the town hall meetings members of Congress are holding across the country to discuss Obama's health care plan get us nowhere. What is needed now is quiet and intelligent dialogue. If there are indeed all of the dreadful consequences built into Obama's plan, talk about them, and just don't shout down those who would pursue meaningful conversation.

When hospitals and doctors turn away needy patients because they do not have an insurance policy, something is really rotten. Every American should be entitled to health care when they are ill. Health care for only those able to afford it is damaging America's image around the world.

I have always received the best of care from the Indian Health Service hospitals and clinics on the Indian reservations and in the urban settings. The health care I receive at the Indian Hospital in Rapid City and the care I received at the Indian Hospital on the Pine Ridge Reservation has been top notch. And for politicians to use the Indian Health Service as a bad example of government run health programs is wrong. It is these very politicians who vote down the badly needed money to sustain and improve the health care of the First Americans that is wrong.

The health care mess in America is not going away until those opposed to a reasonable health care plan stop the tactics of fear and take a hard, realistic look at its shortcomings and advantages. Health care should not be only for those who can afford it.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji) © 2009 Native Sun News