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The health care system in the US is ranked 37th overall in the world even though it spends almost double per capita of what other industrialized countries spend. 47 million are not insured and almost 2 million filers and their dependents per year claim medical bankruptcy. The Real News Network spoke to Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Program who say John McCain’s health care proposals would make things worse than they are now and Barack Obama’s proposals won’t work and won’t be enough to fix the problems. The US government must do more on behalf of the American patient.

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Health care in the USA Pt. 1
Producers: Carlo Basilone & Tina Witham

CYNTHIA TOUSSAINT, HEALTHCARE ACTIVIST: We’re in the great United States of America and we don’t even have health care for our people. What’s wrong with this picture?

CARLO BASILONE, TRNN: Over 47 million people in the United States have no health insurance, and millions more are under-insured. In 2005, over 2 million filers and their dependents declared bankruptcy due to medical costs. Between 2000 and 2006, 137,000 people died in the US because they lacked health insurance. Though the United States spends almost double the amount of other major industrialized nations, the World Health Organization ranked the US health care system at number 37 internationally. Health care is again a major issue in this year’s election.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will give every family in America a $5,000 tax credit to buy their own health insurance or keep their current plan, and we will open up the national health care market to expand choices and improve quality.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you’ve already got health care, we’re going to work with your employer to lower your premiums by $2,000, $3,000 a year. If you don’t have health insurance, then you can buy the same health insurance that I received as a member of Congress, and if you can’t afford it, then we’ll subsidize it. But we’re not going to let anybody go without health care.

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER, ASSOC. PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: McCain’s plan would make things even worse than they are now. He was proposing moving even more toward a market-based system. He has been proposing deregulation of the health insurance industry to remove what consumer protections there are at the state level, deregulate it, allow the insurance industry to do basically whatever they want without much in the way of legislation. He would push for an acceleration of the privatization of the US Medicare program. Our Medicare program is a universal program, but universal only for people over the age of 65. He would accelerate that privatization by handing the money over to private insurance companies and HMOs to take over the Medicare program. Finally, he has advocated a step that would essentially abolish employer-sponsored coverage and instead give people a tax credit. The maximum tax credit for a family is $5,000. And he has lied: he has said that you can buy a family policy for a little more than $5,000. That is absolutely untrue. A family policy in the United States costs about $12,000, and a $5,000 tax credit would leave most working families completely unable to purchase health insurance. Obama’s plan will not fix the system. It will not get us to universal health care. We sometimes call it the “wish it would work” plan; that is, I’m sure he would like to get to universal health care, but what he’s proposing won’t do it, and we know it won’t do it for historical—you know, because it’s been tried and failed several times. That mandate model has been tried three times in states in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a complete failure. It’s being tried in the state of Massachusetts now. It’s been in the process of failing. It hasn’t quite failed yet. But the three previous times it’s been tried, not only were they unable to get to universal health care, they were unable to even reduce the number of uninsured in those states.

DR. DON MCCANNE, SENIOR HEALTH POLICY FELLOW, PHYSICIANS FOR A NATIONAL HEALTH POLICY: Well, there’s there’s no question John McCain’s proposal will make things much worse. Senator Obama would move in the right direction, but the problem with his plan is that he still depends on individual health plans to provide coverage, and that’s an archaic model of the last century. The reason it is is that health care has become so expensive that the insurance industry can no longer provide us with health care plans that have affordable premiums if they’re going to provide adequate benefits in the plan which will protect us from financial hardship in the face of medical need, especially if we include the sick people in our health plans. If you look at employer-sponsored insurance, that is insuring the healthy work force and their young, healthy families. So here we have this very large, healthy group of about 59 percent of Americans, and yet a plan in that arena costs about $12,600 for a family now. Well, let’s start adding in the sick people who need all the care. Can you imagine what that is going to cost? And then, as we shift the responsibility for that over to the individual, I mean, $12,600, if you add in all the sick people, what’s it going to be? $18,000? $20,000? With a median household income of $50,000, how are you going to pay for that? Well, it’s an obsolete method of financing health care. So we’ve got to switch over to a much more rational system.

BASILONE: The Bush administration has just done something that no one would have ever thought possible. They just partially nationalized the banks. Do you think it’s time to partially or even fully nationalize hospitals in the United States?

MCCANNE: Well, I think that every other nation has shown that the government has to be involved in health care financing and health care planning. And that’s why they have better systems at significantly lower cost than ours. We have to have the government involved now. You know, when the Medicare bill passed, Bill Frist and his colleagues made sure that the role of government was going to be reduced. For instance, the drug benefits: the government is prohibited from negotiating with pharmaceutical firms fair prices for drugs. It’s prohibited by the bill. We’ve got to change that. It’s time for us to get the government involved in our behalf, our government, on our behalf, on the behalf of the American patient.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Dr. Steffie Woolhandler is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard and co-director of the Harvard Medical School General Internal Medicine
Fellowship program. She worked in 1990-91 as a Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation health policy fellow at the Institute of Medicine and the
U.S. Congress. She is a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and a current Board member. PNHP is a non-profit research and education
organization of 15,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals
who advocate for single-payer national health insurance. She has published
widely and is the co-author of: National Health Care Book: A Source Guide
for Advocates
and Bleeding the Patient Dry: The Consequences of Corporate

Dr. Don McCanne served as president of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) for two terms and is currently a Senior Health Policy Fellow.
PNHP is a widely recognized non-profit research and education organization
that represents over 15,000 doctors across the US who advocate for a
single-payer national health insurance plan. Dr. McCanne also writes a daily
health policy update online.

Dr. Don McCanne served as president of Physicians for a National Health
Program (PNHP) for two terms and is currently a Senior Health Policy Fellow.
PNHP is a widely recognized non-profit research and education organization
that represents over 15,000 doctors across the US who advocate for a
single-payer national health insurance plan. Dr. McCanne also writes a daily
health policy update online.