Healthcare is consistently rated as one of the top campaign issues. With some 53 million Americans either uninsured or underinsured for medical costs, it is an issue that must be addressed both locally and nationally within the next few years. In Louisiana alone, the Department of Health and Hospitals estimated over 650,00 uninsured in 2007. Its report also found some 91,000 children uninsured; and for children it is especially important because poor health has consistently been shown to be a deterrent to learning. Some change has occurred recently, but not enough and not soon enough for many folks.
When healthcare is discussed as a political issue, the suggested solutions range from the far right complete privatization and management by insurers and HMOs, to the far left ideas of a one payer tax-based system. The catch phrases universal health care or socialized medicine are often used in campaign blather, but in reality universal only means everybody's got it, and socialized means it's regulated by government in some way. Regardless what some may point to as great successes or failures in other countries, the answer to the conundrum in America lies somewhere in a mix of private insurance, tax-based support and employment based support.
Rock-solid conservatives, as a matter of principle, are opposed to any form of public or tax-based healthcare. In his recently released detailed health care plan, John McCain, the presumptive GOP candidate, proposes ideas of individuals having control over their healthcare decisions, and offering incentives to insurance companies to provide coverage at lower costs. Incentives, of course, being the code-word for subsidies or tax breaks in return for their promise to make coverage more affordable. In reality it is simply another way of funneling public funds into private pockets. It is a simplistic catchy answer to a very complex problem.
In the LA01 Congressional race, Steve Scalise has very little to say about resolving the healthcare dilemma. On his web-site, he says only that he will "work to give individuals and families more options to choose affordable healthcare" and that we should "create incentives for the private sector to provide more affordable healthcare." He offers nothing more that the worn-out GOPer talking points, focusing on funding the private sector, i. e. insurance companies and healthcare corporations. In all likelihood he would, if pressed on the issue, say that he supports McCain's plan a rock-solid 100%. His action in voting against the plan to rebuild LSU-Charity in New Orleans highlights his position. Even now that the plan has passed without Scalise, he still argues that we should spend millions more in consultant fees to be sure it's the best deal.
People in the South Louisiana LA01 area are justifiably suspicious of insurance companies, and especially so when it comes to recovering the benefits they are owed in exchange for those high premiums paid over the years. Since Katrina a good deal of that suspicion arises from the unpaid or denied property claims, but every one knows someone who has been denied necessary medical care by an insurance company or HMO. And, in all fairness, it's not because insurance claims managers are bad people (though arguably some are), but because insurance is a for-profit business. Their job is to take in as much as they can through premiums, and limit their medical payments (losses) by screening out high-risk clients and by excessively denying valid claims. In this respect, health insurance is no different from homeowner's or automobile insurance. To even suggest that insurers should be rewarded with "incentives" or subsidies to insure more Americans flies in the face of reason and good sense. It also overlooks a basic human and corporate flaw - GREED.
Gilda Reed supports universal health care, that is "affordable health care for every American man, woman and child". See for yourself what she supports on her website. Good health is a basic right. It should not be controlled by profiteers, nor should it be completely controlled by government. For those who can pay something, there must be viable and reasonably priced coverage, and for those who can't there should be still be necessary medical services available. We must take some daring steps to correct many of the give-a-ways that were enacted in the early years of the Bush Administration, the most glaring of which is the prohibition against Medicare negotiating with pharmaceuticals for lower drug prices. Billy Tauzin might not like it, but lifting this prohibition would save the sick and elderly millions in drug costs - and in some cases save lives by making newly developed illness specific drugs affordable. It does no good to a lot of folks if that new cancer-curing miracle drug costs $400.00 or more a week. We must make healthcare providers answerable to people's needs, not to their own bottom line.
People in LA01 are blessed in so many way. More of our citizens can afford reasonable health care than in other parts of Louisiana, But we must remember that we are not an isolated community. We are part of a State and a Nation, and we are obligated to look beyond our own self-interest and to the common good. Charity Hospital, for example, never was and will not be, solely a New Orleans hospital. When it is rebuild, it will return as a regional teaching hospital, serving all of South Louisiana, including the citizens of LA01.
No one expects any elected official to get everything they believe in and emphasize in their campaign. What folks do expect is for that elected official to have well thought out and viable ideas to bring to the table for discussion. Healthcare in America, and especially in Louisiana, is in a crisis, and will be overhauled over the next few years. The US Congress will be discussing how to balance medicare, medicaid, private insurers, employment based coverage, and whatever other creative ideas can be introduced, in order to provide fair and adequate healthcare for all Americans.
We in LA01 must be an active and viable part of that discussion, not obstructionists who cling to the same old cliches of more individual choices and incentives to insurers. We need a representative in Congress who is dedicated to exploring new ideas, reeling in the give-a-ways, expanding available healthcare and working with an open mind to come up with solutions that benefit all of the folks in LA01 and in America.
We need Gilda Reed to represent LA01 in Congress.