Island Forum | Now is the time to deal with health care in our country

It’s time for the well-reasoned citizens of this country to deal with health care.

Our health care system is not efficient and, for many Americans, not effective.

•We rank 37th in the world in health system performance.

•In 2005, we spent 15.4 percent of our GDP on health care.

By comparison, Japan spent 8.2 percent of its GDP. In that country, a person is expected to live more than four years longer than in the United States. France spent 11 percent of its GNP, and a Frenchman is expected to live 3.1 years longer than an American.

We can do better.

This country’s greatest asset is its down-to-earth, pragmatic, thoughtful citizenry. We’ve built great universities, educated our people and sent them to the moon. We’ve worked through the issues of slavery and universal suffrage. We’ve built water and sewage systems, hospitals and libraries, all for the common good.

Having a healthy population benefits all of us. With efficient health care delivery, businesses would be more competitive in the world and healthy workers would be more productive. Except for the very wealthy, no one is immune to the challenges of paying for health care. Sixty percent of the personal bankruptcies in the United States are related to medical bills. In 75 percent of those cases, the people had health insurance.

We can solve this problem. It just takes the will to do it.

It’s time to get past the distractions. Labeling proponents of health care solutions as Communists or Socialists doesn’t contribute to a reasoned debate. In place of political agendas, let’s examine what’s really going on.

We need to look at a broad range of issues. Administrative costs consume over a third of our health care dollar. This includes profits and advertising for insurance companies. Some doctors prescribe unnecessary procedures and tests to avoid litigation or to raise their income. Some patients do not take responsibility for their own health. There are more areas which need to be addressed.

Let’s look at practical solutions. Many working people cannot afford health insurance. Emergency room care for the uninsured does not provide preventative or ongoing care. This kind of care would keep them out of the emergency room and be less expensive. People who are the sickest and need the most care often lose their health benefits. For many of us, a competitive, profit-based system for covering costs is not working. Let’s be willing to use alternatives that include a mix of private and pubic options.

We can do this because we all share the common values of individual rights and a shared responsibility within our community. We know we will not always get exactly what we want, but in the process of sorting this out, all parties will be fairly heard, and we will have the best solution possible for the largest number of people.

The time to act on health care is now. Congress is writing the bill as you read this article. You can play a part in the outcome.

Call your Congressional representatives: Dave Reichert, (202) 225-7761; Patty Murray, (202) 224-2621; and Maria Cantwell, (202) 224-3441. Tell them you want a strong solution that addresses all the issues and includes private and public options. Let’s be number one.

Carol Friends is a Mercer Island resident.

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