Is health care a right or a responsibility?
GERALDINE CAHILL, TRNN: In the second presidential debate, Barack Obama and John McCain outlined their visions for resolving the US health care crisis. The facts are very worrisome for the world’s richest country. Over 45 million Americans are living without health care insurance, including 9 million children. Over 50 percent of personal bankruptcies in the US are the result of medical expenses. Meanwhile, the US and its residents are spending more than twice as much per capita on health care than Western European public systems. With us now to evaluate Obama and McCain’s proposals for addressing this sad state of affairs is Deborah Burger. Deborah is a registered nurse who serves as the president of the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, and she maintains a blog on health care policy for The Huffington Post. Deborah joins us now by phone from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thanks for joining us, Deborah.
DEBORAH BURGER, PRESIDENT, CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION: My pleasure. It’s good to be on. Thank you.
CAHILL: Excellent. So what was your reaction to the debate in relation to the health care policies of the two candidates?
BURGER: Well, I was very pleased with what Barack Obama said, managing to highlight the fact that for people that are uninsured, he is going to make sure that there is a federal insurance program available for those people; also that he was going to make sure that people could buy insurance without having to worry about preexisting conditions. So he was going to mandate that the insurance companies sell them insurance at a reasonable rate, and that he was going to make sure that children were covered under the health care plan. And he was going to make sure that there was better federal oversight and regulation. McCain’s plan, however, is a little deceiving, and even if you go on his website, you can’t really figure out what his position is. He touts the $5,000 tax credit as a good place to start, but when you realize that a family of four are already spending about $16,000 a year plus out-of-pocket expenses, that $5,000 tax credit really doesn’t go very far. And the other thing is is that medical expenses are climbing nine percent a year, and his tax credit only is pegged to the consumer price index, which only goes up maybe one or two percent a year. And with that tax credit, you don’t actually get that cash in your pocket; you sign up through an insurance company, and the insurance company is the one that gets the tax credit. So it’s really deceiving, and I would say dishonest, to pretend that Americans are going to get a tax credit with this.
CAHILL: We do actually have a clip here that we’d like to play for you, where McCain speaks to his health care policy. And we’re just going to run with that, and then I have a question for you afterwards.
TOM BROKAW, PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE MODERATOR: Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility, Senator McCain?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it’s a responsibility in this respect: in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member. And with the plan that I have, that would do that. But government mandates I’m always a little nervous about. But it is certainly my responsibility to, certainly, small businesspeople and others, and they understand that responsibility. American citizens understand that. Employers understand that.
CAHILL: So McCain sees health care as a responsibility. What’s your reaction to what he had to say?
BURGER: He’s in the perfect position to see it as a responsibility, because he is covered by one of the best and richest plans that any citizen in the United States can belong to. He is a senator, so he gets health care coverage provided by the federal government. The issue that I have with his statement that it’s a responsibility is that there are millions of people that have stepped up to the plate and bought health care insurance, only to find out when they need it that they’re being denied treatment, their treatment is delayed, and often they’re retroactively canceled from their insurance policies. After paying in for ten years, they’re being told, "We don’t cover that, and you can blow it out your ear." You know. So for him to say it’s a responsibility and then not have legislation and regulation that holds the insurance companies responsible is irresponsible.
CAHILL: Well, some of the critique, I think, of the Obama campaign, and perhaps of the proposal too that the Nurses Association is putting forward, is that it’s just not feasible to cover everybody universally. Firstly, just looking at Obama’s position—.
BROKAW: Privilege, right, or responsibility? Start with that.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills, for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a preexisting condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.
Is it a feasible alternative to what we have right now?
BURGER: When Obama says that it is a right, that’s exactly what we believe. It is unconscionable to have people that need health care and yet have to go into bankruptcy, lose their homes, lose their life savings so that they can get the needed breast cancer surgery or some life-saving treatment. We believe, as an organization of registered nurses, when we’re dealing with patients every single day who are making decisions about their health care—and I deal with this on a daily basis myself, because I am calling people to have them come in and get their pap smears, their breast exams, their prostate screenings, and they tell me they can’t afford to do that. They’ve got their co-pays and their deductibles that really don’t allow them, in their budget, to be able to get these preventative health screens. We know that if the money were properly utilized, if we got rid of the insurance companies, there’s 30 cents on every single dollar that the insurance companies use that does not go directly to health care. If we reallocated that money, we could provide health care for every single resident in the United States. It is a feasible plan, because it already works for people that have Medicare. You know, what is so magic about age 65? We could lower the age and everybody could still be covered. They could still go to the doctor that they want to go to. They could get their prescription drugs covered. And it works in other industrial countries that aren’t as rich as our nation is.
CAHILL: Let’s move into perhaps what the Nurses Association would ultimately like to see happen in the second part of our interview.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.