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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

November 6th, 2009 5:44 PM

I'll Bet the 10.2 Percent Can’t Keep What They’ve Got

Hey There, Congress and Mr. President. It’s your citizens. Lots of us are losing jobs and benefits. We cannot keep the benefits we’ve got when we lose our jobs. In fact it’s really hard to keep paying all the bills without a job and an income. The new jobless numbers are alarming in so many ways.

You keep lying and saying you want to make sure people can keep the health insurance benefits they have if they like them. You call it choice. I call it lying.

Throughout my working life – more than 40 years now – I have never been in control of my own access to healthcare. First, if I have a job I can choose to have the kind of insurance my employer offers at the price negotiated by my employer. Second, those benefits may change when the employer’s contract is up and new prices are set. Sometimes I’ve had to change plans and doctors right in the middle of treatment plans. I had no choice. Finally, if I change jobs or lose my job, I can sign up for COBRA benefits which may or may not be the same coverage with the same providers but which is always a lot more expensive. Often I cannot afford those benefits at all.

For 40 years, I have been at the mercy of someone else when it comes to the care I can get and the cost of that care and the continuation of that care. I am last in line to keep what I have – like it or not.

So, now I am sold healthcare reform allegedly in part because so many Americans want to keep the for-profit private insurance they have? That just isn’t true now and it won’t be any more true under the new legislation. We’ll all still be at the mercy of employers, and now we’ll add other folks to control our choices even more – like the people who will police us to make sure we’ve bought private coverage, and the people who will collect the fines from those who don’t buy insurance, or even the people in the “exchanges” who will hawk the various private products we’ll have to buy.

No Medicare for all, they say. That breaks the President’s promise to all those happy insurance customers. What a lie. The only way to guarantee healthcare I can keep is to guarantee healthcare to all. But the only single-payer amendments we had for the House health reform bill have been stripped away. Sad that the plan offering patients the most choices had to go – it just didn’t offer the highest profits to industry folks or the highest campaign donation profits for the leaders writing the bill.

Throughout this recession, millions of Americans have been forced to lose all access to care while Congress and the President dance around political futures and fortunes and calculate re-election strategies. And that is something that has indeed remained constant in my lifetime. Too many of my elected leaders cannot find their way back to the people who elected them when push comes to political shove.

Passing a healthcare reform bill that does not provide me with better access to care or protection from bankruptcy and financial ruin is not what I asked you all to do. Stripping away all reference to a progressively financed, single standard of high quality healthcare for all – also known as single-payer -- is done only to more deeply ensconce the deep pocketed interests in healthcare: the private, for-profit insurance giants, the big pharmaceuticals, the medical equipment companies, the hospital corporations and all the other making huge profits as thousands die needless deaths.

Healthcare is a basic human right. Granting that right is not something to be calculated differently in swing Congressional districts, off-year election strategy or second-Presidential term planning. It is your duty to me, to my fellow citizens and to your nation.

And you are marching away from reality when you think all the hard-working people who counted on you to make this a better healthcare system will not notice when you deliver insurance purchase mandates and a corporate bail-out that will dwarf the Wall Street trillions you’ve already justified.

When you pass whatever you finally pass, the people will hold you accountable as surely as night follows day. We’ll be watching – you can bet on that. And to the 10.2 percent (and that’s just those still counted in the numbers of the unemployed), wouldn’t it be grand if after losing your job you still knew your healthcare was safe? That could be and should be what your government did for you. Unfortunately and tragically, it doesn’t appear that is the road they are brave enough to take on our behalf.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America's Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

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