Friday, November 26, 2010

Life Lines 58


A century ago journalists and critics who exposed filthy slaughter houses [Upton Sinclair], corruption in municipal governments [Lincoln Steffens], and monopolies in restraint of trade [Teddy Roosevelt] were called muckrakers. The privileged and the powerful despised them and smeared them as unpatriotic. Because of them some terrible abuses were regulated by our Federal government. Nedra and I saw Michael Moore’s Sicko and it was both funny, as good satire can be when skillfully done, and sad because of the personal stories of patients dumped from one hospital to another by being shoved out of taxis to transport them, middle class people brought to bankruptcy because their medical insurance did not cover their needs, or insurance workers who quit because they couldn’t take denying insurance to clients who were sick. There were doctors frustrated by insurance companies that did not pay them and insurance companies that would not allow them to recommend tests or treatment they felt were essential for their patients.

In 2001 after the 9-11 attack we were on board ship in the Pacific Ocean where I was teaching on Semester at Sea. The State Department took over our voyage, fearful that some 600 college students from 100 colleges (most of them from wealthy or upper middle class families) might be at risk. All our Islamic ports were cancelled and we did not know until a day ahead where our next port would be. One of the safe ports we were allowed by the State Department (Bush administration, no less) to visit was Havana. Castro threw a banquet for the entire shipboard community and gave a four hour lecture on terrorism (hotel fires and bombings by anti-Castro terrorists from Florida, he claimed, which are rarely reported in the US press). I was interested in health care in Cuba and got to see their neighborhood health units (one on every block), their secondary health (one within walking distance for every neighborhood), and their tertiary care (where major surgery, referred rare conditions, and trauma were handled). While it was clear to me that Cuba was a controlled state I would not choose to live in, the health care delivery was available to everyone. One reason Cuba has the lowest infant mortality and one of highest longevity rates in our hemisphere is that everyone has to visit a physician once a year. If not, the local doctor knocks on your door and does a house call.

In Moore’s Sicko we learn what local citizens and ex-patriate Americans think of free health care in Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. They love it and so do their physicians because they can treat people without worrying about HMO approvals, the red-tape of insurance companies, and the horror of seeing their patients forced from their care by hospital policy set by profit-making corporations. Moore argues for a government that values “We, the People,” rather than “Me, the lucky.” We don’t argue that police should be paid out of private funds and those who can’t afford it should not be protected. We tolerate a shameful health system that has been bloated in costs to the benefit of a few and the detriment of an unacceptable portion of our fellow citizens. Note with sadness that virtually every candidate, Republican and Democratic, running for President, has been given generous donations by lobbyists from the few who represent the privileged who wish it to remain that way.

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