A new Harvard study just found that over 44,000 people in the country die every year because they lack health insurance. That’s about 122 people dying every day in the wealthiest nation in the world. Yet the health care crisis in the U.S. goes way deeper than the nearly 50 million that have no insurance.

Big health insurance companies are doing great, raking in billions in profits. They do so by systematically finding different ways to deny claims. Last December, a 17-year old girl with a failing liver was denied a transplant procedure by her insurance company. Over a week later, the company was forced to reverse the decision after her friends and family organized protests. Nataline died only hours later before she could get a liver transplant. She was not one of the 122 people (on average) who die each day because they lack insurance.

Overwhelmingly, the burden of health care costs falls on the shoulders of ordinary working people with high premiums, co-pays, and out-of-pocket costs for expensive prescription drugs. The economic crisis only makes matters worse. Millions who lose their jobs risk losing their health benefits, while employers are looking to place more of the costs of health benefits on the workers who still have jobs.

Big Pharma
Are you depressed? Want to lose weight? There’s a pill for you. Drug companies spend a whopping $60 billion on advertising each year – twice what they spend on research and development – while bringing in about $300 billion in profits.

At the root of the U.S. health care crisis is a system driven not by a desire to provide quality care, but instead by an insatiable thirst for mega-profits. This whole for-profit health care system makes us very sick.

Meanwhile, in the ever-confusing debate about health care reform taking place in Washington, should we expect that any of the likely proposals take on this twisted private health care industry? With $1.4 million spent every day lobbying against any real reform, don’t hold your breath!

After caving on the “public option” in the face of the right-wing offensive, leading Senate Democrats now appear to have put it back on the agenda – with the option of states opting out – due to popular pressure from the Democratic Party’s base. But if this “public option” was actually effective in competing with the private insurance companies, by providing better coverage more efficiently and at lower costs, it would put the whole purpose of private insurance into question. Leading Democrats who get millions in lobby money and campaign contributions from the insurance companies simply aren’t going to challenge these companies in any fundamental way.

In fact, the proposed bills still left on the table would help big insurance companies, mandating by law that everyone must buy insurance. Talk about a boost in business. They have just delivered tens of millions more customers to the insurance companies. The government would even provide subsidies to help people pay for these insurance premiums. If they’re bailing out the big banks, why not some handouts for the big insurance companies, too?

Even with the mandate, between 17-25 million would be left uninsured. Estimates vary, but they’re hoping to make $4-20 billion in penalties from those that can’t afford to buy insurance.

The state of Massachusetts has already implemented a similar model of forcing private health insurance on the poor. A new lower-tier health plan was created, but in the world of for-profit health insurance cheaper doesn’t mean more affordable. It means poorer-quality coverage, high co-pays, more out-of-pocket expenses, and so on.

Minor regulation won’t cut it. The corporate-backed Democrats have no solutions. We need to completely overhaul the whole system by demanding a single-payer health insurance system and socialized medicine.

Or Free, Quality Health Care for All?
The biggest obstacle to free, quality health care guaranteed to all is the for-profit health care system. A single-payer health insurance system as part of a system of socialized medicine would take the profits out of health care.

A single-payer plan is one where a government agency is the sole provider of health insurance, covering everybody’s medical and health care costs. There would be no premiums, co-pays, deductibles, or other fees. It could be paid for by increased taxes on the top 5% of income earners and taxes on stock and bond transactions, as described in the single-payer bill, HR 676.

Doctors and patients would be able to make medical decisions without the interference of private insurance companies who are looking for ways to deny coverage. Working people would not have to make decisions about finding jobs or changing jobs based on whether or not the job comes with health benefits.

A publicly-run system would be far more efficient than the for-profit private system. Administrative costs consume 31 cents of every dollar in the private industry, while Medicare, a government-run health care system for the elderly, spends 3 cents on the dollar. Canada’s single-payer system is comparatively as efficient.

While there are problems with Canada’s health care system, various polls show that the vast majority of Canadians (over 80%) prefer their system over the for-profit health insurance system in the U.S. A Gallup poll in the U.S. showed that only 25% of Americans “are satisfied with the availability of affordable health care.”

Of course, some of the $400 billion of the administrative costs a single-payer system could save would have to go towards job retraining and placement for workers displaced from their jobs in private health insurance. But they could be retrained as nursing aides or hospital technicians, whose job it is to care for people, instead of working for insurance companies to deny people care.

Insurance is only one aspect of health care. We should demand a single-payer health insurance system as a big step towards fully socialized medicine. That means taking the drug companies and medical supplies companies into public ownership to run them not for profit but to make the medicines and supplies we need.

Private Hospitals are constantly trying to reduce wages and working conditions of nurses and other health care workers. These hospitals should also become public and ensure quality wages, benefits, and conditions for health care workers. Currently, many doctors in these hospitals are paid on an incentive-based system where they receive fees for ordering expensive tests and treatments, not necessarily the right tests or the right treatments.

We need a system where doctors and patients can make decisions based on providing the best care. Only a publicly-owned national health care system run democratically by doctors, nurses, patients, and ordinary working people can provide free, high-quality health care for all.

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