Andy Coates, MD, President of Physicians for a National Health Program, offered a sobering slideshow on January 17 at Buffalo’s Lafayette Presbyterian Church. His talk to a diverse audience of over 100 demonstrated the savings to human lives, the quality of life, and the national and individual pocketbook that a single public universal health insurance would provide. Right now, about 50 million Americans—1 out of 6—don’t have health insurance.
The meeting—“Community Forum: Poverty, Disparities, and Healthcare: A Conversation with Dr. Andy Coates”-- was convened by Jessica Bauer Walker, executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo.
Katie Grimm, MD, co-chair of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo, introduced the speaker. Myron Glick, MD and CEO of the Jericho Road Family Practice and Sam Magavern, JD, Co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good, offered perspectives on these issues.
Administering competing health plans eats into funds that could be better utilized in the actual health care. Right now, the numbers of Americans delaying health care or forgoing it entirely can be attributed accurately to the high costs of insurance itself, co-pays that are insurmountable for some, and even to balancing the purchase of medicine with paying utility bills.
Americans deplete savings quickly even when paying deductibles. A high percentage of those who are uninsured have less than $100 in savings, Coates noted, and those who have, say, $5000 set aside for emergency health purposes can find it spent in a day.
An example: Credit through private companies issued to emergency room patients comes at a high cost—as much as 27%. And the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US is medical debt.
Looked at in conjunction with the rest of the world, maternal death rates in the US are comparable only to those in Afghanistan and countries in southern Africa. The US ranks last when it comes to preventable deaths, Coates noted, even though we don’t have more smokers, elderly, or days in the hospital than other countries.
These challenges, he reminded the audience, are taking place in a setting of difficult economic issues. What’s more, there is a correlation between the health of society and the health of individuals.
For instance, from 1950 to 1980, the top 1% held about 10% of the national income share. Now, the wealthiest 1% hold 25% of the income share, and in New York State, that second figure is 35% of the income share.
Working toward a remedy, a proposal for the Physicians’ Working Group for Single Payer National Health Insurance offers the following:
- Cover everyone
- No co-pay
- Single public payer
- No investor-owned HMO’s
- Improved health planning
- Public accountability
We have the ability to do this, Coates assured the audience, but what we don’t yet have is a model of social solidarity. Equality of this sort isn’t altruism, he said, but because of the nature of just being human, it is in fact reciprocity. That concept offers the American public a way to think about an alternative to the current health care system.
For more about current approaches to health matters, try this:
Linda Chalmer Zemel is the Buffalo Alternative Medicine Examiner and the Buffalo Books Examiner for Examiner.com. She has been active in community planning since her high school days in Buffalo.