Editor's Viewpoint

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Health care bake sale

As you listen to the politicians and their promises about how they are going to fix the health care costs crisis, it can be darn hard to get your cerebral arms around an issue so huge, complicated, confused and downright dysfunctional.

The other day, it dawned on me how to interpret the promises.

Every time a medical crisis happens to a family in our little communities, it seems that it is now necessary to hold a pancake fundraiser, a car wash or a bake sale in order to find the money to meet the gap in their medical bills.

This is a beautiful thing, too. The government may be a world out of touch with the heath situation, insurance coverage may be failing to adequately cover a full half of Americans, but the neighbors never fail you.

It's a wonderful thing that people are willing to come to your aid when you are down, even if you didn't need the money. But why do we have to depend on $7 carrot cakes to keep our health care system afloat?

From now on, that's how I'm going to judge all the rhetoric the candidates utter:

Is it going to fix the Bake Sale Gap? I've heard nothing from the politicians yet that would lick the key lime pie filling off the spoon of societal need.

According to Time Magazine and the new book "Critical Condition," Americans pay more for health care on average than any country in the world, and yet our senior citizens must hop the Greyhound to Canada to buy medicine they can afford.

We read of unnecessary medical procedures being done while needed ones are turned away. Of fraud and overbilling. Of hospital emergency rooms clogged because people who can't afford to go to their doctor go there instead, and the bad debt hikes up costs for those who do pay their bills. Of foolish malpractice suits hamstringing our doctors. Of lots being spent of treatment, and little on prevention. Of more people dying from prescription drug abuse than heroin, cocaine or meth.

And of insurance that is so messed up that few people know what they are really covered for, and when you do get sick, it seems a lottery to see how much they finally decide to pay.

The "Critical Condition" book suggests one idea that politicians don't - a universal coverage program with a single agency to collect both medical fees and claims. Everyone would get the same access to basic care, prescription drugs and rehabilitation, for the same price.

Of course, the big drug and insurance companies that pad politicians' pockets would tell you this is impossible.

I wonder. Universal care and a single-payer system - Isn't that largely what Medicare is now, for those over 65? According to the Time article, Medicare operates with just 2% overhead costs, compared to 12-30% for several private insurers studied.

None of us have all the answers, but we can probably see that nothing bold enough is coming out of the mouths of the two presidential candidates. They have ideas that would adjust the problems, but not fix them. Are you confident enough in what they say that you wouldn't worry about costs if a catastrophic illness struck in your family? I'm not...

Your neighbors would probably be there with a pancake dinner, a car wash or a bake sale, God bless them. Because they know you are going to need them. And that our health care and insurance system isn't going to cut it. When our government has the same kind of heart as the bake salers do, the health crisis may finally get solved.