Can insurance companies grant health care for all?
In the second part of our interview with Deborah Burger, Deborah explains why nurses are supporting HR 676 as the solution to the health coverage problems of the US. Deborah explains how the inclusion of private insurance companies in the provision of health care has created the problems that the US has, that other countries do not. For this reason, Obama’s plan cannot resolve the problem as it does not remove the insurance companies from the picture.
GERALDINE CAHILL, TRNN: Welcome to the next segment of our interview with Deborah Burger about the state of the US health care system. 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 policy for The Huffington Post. Deborah joins us today by phone from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thanks for sticking with us, Deborah.
DEBORAH BURGER, PRESIDENT, CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION: My pleasure.
CAHILL: Now that we’ve talked a little bit about what the two major parties have proposed as health care solutions this election, we look a little more at the California Nurses Association proposal for an alternative to the current health care system in the United States. Can you talk to what the association would like to see happen?
DEBORAH BURGER: There is a framework for our goal, and that is HR 676, which is currently in Congress. It’s Congressperson Conyers’ bill. And it has been gaining support. The more people hear about that bill, the more they understand that it can work for them. Basically HR 676 is a Medicare for all. It works beautifully because it does leave most of the systems that are in place now. So if you have a favorite doctor that you see, you have a hospital that you have a relationship with in your community, you can continue to be treated by them. But it is more comprehensive than most insurance policies right now: it includes mental health care; it includes a prescription drug coverage; it includes optical and dental coverage; which are sorely lacking pieces of coverage in what is currently available in even the Medicare system as it stands.
CAHILL: I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that the United States is in a fairly precarious economic situation at the moment, and an overhaul of the health care system would seem to me, on the face of it, to be an extremely expensive exercise, particularly with the government having to fund what essentially the public is paying for right now through the insurance companies. How would you propose we actually move into this system? And can the United States possibly do that at this stage?
BURGER: We already have structures in place, such as the Medicare system, that can transition fairly easily to tracking all of our citizens and making sure that they have the health care that they need. The thing is is that the other thing that you want to look at is that insurance companies right now are teetering. So even if you’re paying into a health care insurance company, you’re really never sure if they’re going to be there when you need them. So right now we think that this is a good opportunity to say, okay, we really need to do something drastic, because right now things are not working for us.
CAHILL: How would you respond to the critics who look at systems like the system in Canada, for example, which has universal health care, and says, well, there are still huge waiting lines for people to get access to surgery and so on?
BURGER: When you’re a citizen in the United States, even if you have insurance there are wait lines. If you don’t have insurance and can’t afford it, that’s a de facto wait line. If you don’t have the money to cover the surgery, you wait in line until you have the cash to get the surgery. So, in effect, you’re in a line, or you can’t even get into line to wait for your surgery if you don’t have the money.
CAHILL: Another critique would be that the current system in the United States gives the public a choice of who their health care provider is, who their insurance company is. It’s an argument that suggests there is more choice under the current system. How do you respond to that?
BURGER: It’s sort of a false argument there that you do have choice, because, in reality, my sister and her family, they have—I think it’s Pacific Care. And what happens is is they’re told, "Here’s the list of doctors that you can go to, and those are the only ones that you can go to." So she calls around and finds out that all of those people that are in those practices have closed practices. So then she calls back, argues for another half hour, and finds out that they’ll put her on a waiting list to see a pediatrician. So they give the illusion of choice, but there really isn’t a choice when it comes right down to it. The other thing is, in an emergency, we’ve had patients that have been told the insurance company won’t pay the bill because they didn’t go to the right hospital when there was an emergency. And it’s like, well, wait a minute—the ambulance took me to the closest hospital because I was having a heart attack. I can’t be on the phone calling people to make sure that I’m in an in-plan hospital. So if we had Medicare for all, you wouldn’t have to worry about which hospital you went to and you could go see the doctor that you want to see without having to get pre-approval and pre-authorization.
CAHILL: The last question that I wanted to ask you today—and I do hope that we get a chance to speak again—is the difference between what you’re proposing and what the Obama campaign is currently proposing. What he would argue is that what the Obama campaign is proposing is working within the current structure to make some positive changes to the health care system, that the plan, as you’ve just illustrated to me, is not at all achievable in this current environment, that it’s just too unrealistic. How do you respond to that?
BURGER: Well, Senator Obama in a couple of his speeches said if he were starting from scratch, single-payer Medicare for all is the only thing that makes sense. We are quite willing to see a gradual shift to single-payer, anything that gets us towards that goal. But when they leave the insurance companies in place, it’s allowing the fox to stay in the hen house and cause mischief, even though we know that they’re the root of the problem. And no amount of regulation is going to be able to see around some of those corners that he’s referring to when it comes to what the insurance companies have done that have harmed our patients. And so we say that we believe that if we are going to have an overhaul of the system, we need to get that cancerous insurance industry out of the system, because it is what is destroying our citizens’ health.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.