Profit and health care don’t mix

August 20, 2009

Dennis Kosuth, a registered nurse in Chicago, explains why the health care "reform" on offer from the White House can't solve America's health care crisis.

YOU DON'T have to be a nurse to know our health care system is broken, but working at a public hospital puts you on the frontlines of a crisis that is only worsening in today's economic climate.

Due to the way that health care is managed in this country, preventative care is not emphasized. The emergency room becomes an ambulatory clinic, a prescription refill dispensary and a psychiatric crisis center--all this on top of being a place for true medical emergencies. This formula makes for wait times that can last over 20 hours.

People without insurance will wait months, and sometimes years, to be seen for their health problems. When I ask how long someone has had abdominal pain, they will often respond that it has been many months. When they are diagnosed with ovarian cancer--as a young woman I recently treated was--these lost months will literally be the difference between life and death.

The reason people do not come in earlier is very simple--they cannot afford to get sick, so they hope that whatever is bothering them will go away on its own. In a health care system run for profit, this fear is very real. The number one reason for personal bankruptcy is related to astronomical medical bills.

Nurses rally for single-payer health care in Chicago
Nurses rally for single-payer health care in Chicago (NNOC)

With almost 50 million uninsured--of whom four out of five are employed--as the economy continues to drag, more and more will find themselves in this predicament. Every day I go to work, I treat at least one person who first lost their job and then their health care.

For those who think this will never happen to them, I envy their optimism. They should also know that this health care crisis will affect them directly because as their community includes more and more sick people, everyone will suffer.

THE DEBATE on health reform is in full swing and one reason it is so heated is because it has been long overdue. Misinformation abounds, with some associating Obama's reforms with euthanasia for the elderly or the ending of Medicare.

Those who are against any reform at all have been able to get away with spreading these rumors because, I believe, Obama's plan is not only confusing, but does not get to the heart of the problem in this country.

I agree with Obama when he says that the U.S. is "held hostage" by insurance companies that deny coverage to sick people. We pay more per capita for health care than any other country on the planet, and yet consistently perform terribly in almost every category that assesses the state of our nation's health.

The profit-driven component of our health care system has given us nothing but overpriced drugs, denied claims and understaffed hospitals. Profit should have no place in health care, any more than it should have in fighting house fires. If someone's house is on fire, it should be put out, regardless of ability to pay. If someone needs health care, they should be treated, regardless of ability to pay.

A price tag cannot be placed upon a human life, and yet insurance companies do it every day in their cold calculus to maximize the bottom line.

The only way to remove profit from health care is to remove the health insurance companies from the equation. Politicians are resistant to this because many receive critical campaign dollars from these same corporations.

By including insurance companies in the White House health care reforms, Obama includes the main problem in the solution, and this is why these reforms are overly complicated and open to attack.

Medicare has been successful at providing decent care with low operational costs. The government has succeeded at running this program for over four decades. Medicare should be expanded to include all those who live here, as Rep. John Conyers' bill HR 676 proposes.

While mistrust of the government is an understandable sentiment, it is clear that the HMOs and PPOs can no longer be trusted with our lives, so I believe it is time to expand Medicare--something that actually has a track record of working.

This country was founded upon the ideals of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Until health care is a right for all, these words will ring hollow to the millions who are unnecessarily suffering every day.

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