I am separating my thoughts today into two posts with regards to the Over the Mountain Democrats forum titled "Crisis in American Healthcare: Is Universal Coverage the Solution?" The forum was held last night at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and was attended by about 400 interested people, including many from the School of Public Health and fellow blogger Kathy who writes about the event on Birmingham Blues.
Questions about disparities in healthcare, why so many are uninsured or underinsured, why we pay more than twice as much as any other country for healthcare in spite of low rankings among industrialized countries when it comes to quality of healthcare and whether healthcare is a right or a privilege, were addressed (sort of).
Panelists were Dr. Wally Retan, state coordinator of Health Care for Everyone – Alabama and whose son is Chris Retan, executive director of Alethia House, Mr. Terry Kellogg, executive vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Dr. Max Michael, dean of UAB School of Public Health and former medical director of Cooper Green Hospital, and congressman Artur Davis of the 7th congressional district in Alabama.
The one thing we all knew going into the forum was that healthcare in America is a complex issue that is not going to be resolved by a 4 person panel in Alabama. But what this panel did was offer hope in that 4 people with very differing opinions sat and talked and took questions without calling each other names or losing their tempers and those who make the policy decisions over the next few months and years that change our system will have to do so in the same manner.
In four snapshots, here is what the panelists offered.
Dr. Retan gave the keynote address, but his pitch is for universal coverage, no exceptions, no exclusions, but at the expense of doing away with the private insurance companies. He spoke highly of the German model for healthcare.
Mr. Kellogg, wanting to hold on to his company of course, wants to reduce costs by having physicians stop performing expensive procedures such as all types of spinal fusion for which there is no evidence that the procedures work or that they improve the quality of life for those who receive them. In addition, he is all for doing away with pre-existing condition exclusions if his competitors are required to do the same (because his premiums would have to go up so the others should too).
Dr. Michael would like to reduce costs by removing simple monitoring and treatment such as for high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol from the healthcare system and allowing people to monitor and treat themselves. Of course, this would only work if his big picture was accepted, and this would be rather than using $120 billion to insure everyone, use the money to improve education and job training so that people would have a better understanding of their personal health and why and how to maintain it, and this also would improve the socio-economic status of many so that they would be in a position to have employer provided insurance or buy insurance.
Artur Davis would like to see Barack Obama elected.
To be fair, Davis did offer some good points, but they were lost after his insult of the audience’s intelligence and slamming of the LGBT community, and this is what will be addressed on another post.
The most uplifting part of the evening was when the question was posed asking how many believed providing healthcare was a moral issue. Almost every hand in the room went up. It is a moral issue, and what is immoral is that how much money one has determines whether you get treated when you are sick. One thing Davis said was that in our country, when you are accused of a crime, innocent or guilty, you are assured of getting legal representation. There is some degree of morality in assuring that everyone is represented. Where is the morality that assures that everyone in America who gets sick is able to see a doctor and get first class treatment? And I don’t want W’s answer that everyone can go to the emergency room. That is not a solution.
Another point he brought up (as a result of appearing on right wing radio talk shows and hearing complaints that “illegals” are being treated in our emergency rooms) is that medical professionals take an oath, and to refuse treatment to anyone would be in violation of that oath and could lead to forfeiture of their license.
So the forum did not solve the problems of healthcare, but it did give those in attendance a chance to hear differing views, all of which seek solutions and all of which, to some degree, will be a part of the solution.
Let’s just hope the democrat who is elected president will also have a congress she or he can work with to find ways to address the growing crisis, or we may find all of us without the type of healthcare are accustomed to.
Comic relief was provided by Barry Ragsdale, the moderator, and by two ladies sitting next to me, who, when Barry recognized the help provided by the Young Democrats from Hoover and Mountain Brook High Schools whispered "Both of them!" in repsonse.