News & Views from 465 California Street

The Cure

Clint Reilly

Nationalize bankrupt banks? Hell, let’s nationalize our bankrupt health care system.

Everyone I know has a horror story: The insured, employed single mother who must choose whether to pay for her two children’s health policies or the rent on a two bedroom apartment; the recently laid off Mervyn’s employee who cannot afford her COBRA, the 50-year-old freelance accountant with a successful practice who can’t find affordable coverage; the unemployed journalist with five kids and no health coverage; the older worker who was furloughed because his coverage was three times the cost of a younger co-worker with a fraction of the experience.

Inequity and iniquity abound.

The sole industrialized nation without universal health coverage? How does that make sense when American taxpayers are bailing out the financial system, the auto industry and are being called upon to rescue free market capitalism from the abyss?

I will dispense with the usual grim statistics – like 49 million uninsured Americans – (as if proof is still needed to justify jettisoning America’s terminally ill health care system). What are we afraid of? If capitalists can’t run our financial system, how can they manage our health care system?

Our employer-based health care system is as bankrupt as Detroit’s auto industry – which ironically was partially laid low by skyrocketing health insurance premiums.

Employer subsidized coverage for the entire family is a thing of the past. Today, beleaguered families struggle to choose between health care and essentials.

Workers face ever more expensive options such as co-pays and catastrophe-only plans with huge deductibles. Worse, the unemployed are usually also uninsured. Today, with unemployment raging out of control, a new army of uninsured is created every month – despite the federal stimulus package’s promise to cover 65 percent of COBRA for nine months.

A patented attack on “socialized medicine” has been the insurance industry’s nuclear weapon in the long war to resist universal health care. For two decades, they have argued that the same industry that spawned AIG (which required a $150 billion taxpayer bailout) is better equipped to manage health care than the U.S. government.

But as Newsweek magazine pointed out in its February 16 cover story, “We are all socialists now.” Newsweek predicts greater reliance on government as the recession deepens. “Health care in the U.S. is for the most part tied to employment, so if job numbers continue to look dismal, or get even worse, an even greater number of people will start looking to government for support.”

Comparisons to other nations invalidate the contention that socialized medicine is inferior to our market-driven model. Japan, France, Great Britain, Netherlands and Germany all have universal health care and government managed systems. They spend between $2,350 and $3,700 per person for health care while we spend $6,400. Health care spending as a portion of gross domestic product is 15 percent here versus 8 to 11 percent in the other nations.

And yet the World Health Organization ranks France’s health care system the best in the world. The United States is rated an embarrassing 37th.

I’ve grown weary of the private sector’s unanswered public relations war on government. Is our federal government perfect? Of course not. But neither is it the corrupt and incompetent caricature portrayed in ads resisting oversight and regulation by utilities, banks, developers, insurance companies and yes, Republicans.

The demonization seems increasingly hypocritical after these same corporate titans and their political allies have squandered so much of our national treasure.

Who would you trust to manage America’s health care – insurance companies or the people’s government? That’s almost a rhetorical question. Actually, that is not the correct question. The real question is – do you think access to health care is a right or a privilege?

Who could say to any person who was sick that health care is not a human right?

Only an insurance company.

Comments (20)

  • YES, YES, YES!!!!

    Did I mention that I agree wholeheartedly?

    Posted by: Elena | February 24th, 2009 at 8:16 am

  • Single payer is the only way to efficiency of actual cost-cutting and toward getting Americans assured access to health care. Thank you for your column.

    Posted by: Ronda | February 24th, 2009 at 9:58 am

  • Clint,

    I enjoy, not sure that is right word,your articles. Totally in line
    with my opinions and way of thinking. Frankly just recently had my
    75th birthday and at this point in my life it appears those things I
    believed in are cast in sand.

    Today’s article on health care is of particular interest. I find not
    only the costs,but the whole approach illogical. I subscribe to
    several health newsletters, most by MDs but who think outside the
    box. My experience with my wife, who contracted polio 12 1/2 yrs ago
    from the live virus oral polio vaccine given our grandchild(we
    babysat at the time), in addition to my daughter Mary who was
    diagnosed with MS about 15 yrs ago has prompted me to become more
    involved,and interested in health care per se. Keep up your
    excellent efforts. I plan to send you a longer letter with some of my
    thoughts, and opinions.

    regards, John O’L

    Posted by: John O'L | February 24th, 2009 at 9:59 am

  • Healthcare for profit is Immoral My relatives in UK and in Australia both have a better standard of living then I do because of their free national health and more vacation each year to spend with family. they get either 4 or 6 weeks a year. I came here 35 years ago for a better life than UK but the joke is on me.

    Posted by: Grady | February 24th, 2009 at 10:24 am

  • Currently the cost of health insurance for my son and myself is 872.50 per month. In addition Dental care is 100.08 per month, making my annual cost of care $11,670.96 per year or $5,835.48 per person….and we are the lucky ones.

    Posted by: Trisha Z. | February 24th, 2009 at 10:24 am

  • Mr. Reilly,

    Many of us in the healthcare professions agree with your views on nationalizing the healthcare industry. I worked for the VA for 25 years as a pharmacist and saw that a government run healthcare system can provide quality care for a large segment of the population (veterans). Sometimes the VA made mistakes, but response to public criticism usually got them back on track. After I retired from the VA I worked for Kaiser for 7 years. Kaiser is also a good model for providing health care to large numbers of people, cheaply and effectively. There are those who rant and rave about “socialized medicine” being evil. They are the same ones who thought Kaiser was a Communist plot when it was first started. I personally knew the late Dr. Cecil Cutting, the first CEO of the Permanente Medical Group (physicians who contract to provide medical care to Kaiser). He told me that when he first started with Kaiser, organized medicine wouldn’t let Kaiser physicians join their organizations. They were considered radial socialists who were out to destroy the doctor patient relationship. They were wrong.

    Ronald Regan wanted to privatize veterans’ care and do away with the VA. Fortunately veterans groups came down on him like a ton of bricks and it didn’t happen. During every Republican administration the VA is underfunded and it can’t provide the necessary care for “To care for those who bore the burden of battle and their widows and orphans.” The Bush administration was just the latest example. Max Cleland (VA Administrator under President Carter) said about the 2005 VA budget, “The president’s budget underfunds the VA to the tune of $3.5 billion.”

    As you indicated so well in your article, the time has come for nationalizing the health care system and making it serve the people it is supposed to serve.

    Thanks for your article.

    John B

    Posted by: John B. | February 24th, 2009 at 10:44 am

  • Clint-

    I have enjoyed your articles in our local Valley Times newspaper in Pleasanton. Today’s write-up was right on target.

    Can you write a daily commentary to supplement the declining number of articles in our paper?
    Or perhaps you could spearhead an effort for establishing a newspaper that is not owned and dominated by the right-wing conservative folks.

    How about writing about the waste of lives and money for the Iraq War/Occupation? From the lack of coverage in the media you would think the war is over and the troops are home (we could then spend the money on domestic urgent needs). The Republican hypocrites complaining about spending money domestically to rescue the economy never discuss the $1 trillion for the Iraq fiasco.

    Thanks for a bright spot in the newspaper.

    George R.

    Posted by: George R. | February 24th, 2009 at 10:44 am


    When I got the message some months back that your messages were different, thinking, my life with the newspaper time was improved.

    Today’s was especially ‘germane’ not germy! Healthcare for All is one of the issues that my husband and I support, activists even. Makes no sense to pay health dollars to ‘for profit’ entities – insurance companies, even hospitals. Pharmacy issues are a bit more complex, but maybe not. Mandated insurance is one of the most pernicious bailouts of BIG INSURANCE, even AARP, and BIG PHARMA by connection.

    Anyway the underlying issue is trust. I do not trust business to take care of my life issues – maybe Christmas shopping – but then, not that. We support ‘alternative’ gift giving, too – if any. We can trust government – with oversight!

    Other issues of interest to us is: Muddle East – our bad policy toward Israel (always yes) and Palestine (always terrorists?),
    burden of ‘super’ minority legislative terrorism in California, special initiatives – badly written and pushed by lies, no thoughtful analysis/impact (probably need California Constitutional Reform), Environment – Earth and Social … many more.

    Blessings for your efforts, expense, in dispensing wisdom.

    Linda and Jim

    Posted by: Linda & Jim | February 24th, 2009 at 11:57 am

  • I love your articles. Pest editorial in the paper which unfortunately doesn’t say much. Anyway, I volunteer on the BD of Directors at the Berkeley/Albany YMCA and I get more frustrated each year about the issues with homeless. I can’t see how Berkeley and other similar Cities can do it on our own. It seem like this is a National issue or possibly a State issue. Please give me your perspective on this. It is my understanding that Reagan shut down all the mental facilities in the State when he was governor. Now, we have a number of individuals who are mentally incompetent to help themselves, we also have Vets that feel safer in the (parks) streets. I try and donate my money to the clinics that help them out but feel so sorry for those who are basically lost with little support. If you notice, there are very few unaggressive pan handlers out there. Any ideas on how we can start a movement to help this community?


    Posted by: Tim | February 24th, 2009 at 11:58 am

  • Hi Clint,

    Major Kudos for your article titled “The Cure”. You told it like it is and I salute you for your exquisite, intelligent and honest approach to our healthcare situation.

    Arnie W

    Posted by: Arnie | February 24th, 2009 at 11:59 am

  • Restructuring of the medical delivery system is needed as well.

    Government funded or assisted training, some sort of universal board certification and other ways to increase the number of physicians (or physicians assistants) to serve underserved areas.

    The AMA is going to drag their feet to protect the income status quo.

    Posted by: Imola | February 24th, 2009 at 1:06 pm

  • Dear Mr. Reilly,

    From time to time I have read your articles in the IJ and wanted to let you know that I appreciated you discussion of “The Cure” and health care reform that appeared 2-24-09. You may or may not know that this is an area I have been working on throughout my career as a health care professional and now as a policy maker and I appreciated the way you articulated your thoughts on the subject.

    Warm regards,

    Susan L. Adams, Ph.D., RN

    Marin County Board of Supervisors, District 1

    Posted by: Susan | February 24th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  • Thanks, dear Mr. Clint Reilly, for all of your articles that I’ve read for the last year or so. They are all thought provoking.
    Re today’s, about health care, I can’t begin to tell you how many people I know who (1) can’t afford health insurance – the working poor – (2) have the ins. from employment with a union and it’s gotten too expensive, (3) and so on. We’re pretty steamed about current affairs in this health insurance business. The whole deal seems other worldly to me. How do they get away with it?
    In the last section of your article today you asked if everyone should have health care. I remember debating that, about 50 years ago during a great books leadership course at the NYC public library. There was as much confusion and steam generated then as now. I had never thought of the whether, taking it for granted at that young and healthy age that there were no problems. During the heated discussion I realized that my answer was “yes.” It remains “yes.”
    Now in my very elder years I feel as if I’m being “thrown to the wolves” re health care. And, I know that there are probably a million in a similar situation.
    I could go on and on, and am going to just end and say thank you again.
    with good wishes for all of your endeavors and, “here’s to *your* health!”
    Sincerely, Mary

    Posted by: Mary | February 24th, 2009 at 2:06 pm

  • Thanks for the pertinent, well-thought out article.

    I fulfilled one of many New Year’s ’09 resolutions last week, and i learned two important valuable life lessons from my WWII-Depression Era newfound buddy after putting him through interrogation of my 20+ questions.

    This is the wisdom he imparted:

    1. A job that paid $15 a week in 1943-1946 was $15 more than his buddies, he said. So he saved nobly, worked nobly, fought nobly, served nobly, and invested wisely.

    2. Laugh a lot. His humor (and simple outlook on life, humility) and desire to be active is probably the reason why he is kicking strong and healthy at the age of 82, he said.

    He also has adequate health care through the VA for life.

    We really should Socialize HealthCare or make it accessible for every citizen. It’s about time.

    Both my aunt and uncle are doctors in Canada and they say it works.

    Posted by: Don Nguyen | February 24th, 2009 at 3:03 pm

  • Enjoy your columns, and your points of view.

    Why not put them in a book……and tell the nation!

    I’ll buy one!

    Posted by: Vogel | February 24th, 2009 at 4:32 pm

  • There must be a business answer to our healthcare costs.

    Since Kaiser Permanente is a non-profit it should not be that
    difficult to get a copy of annual operating statements for the last
    few years. Broad catigories like doctors, nurses, custodial costs,
    equipment costs, building rents, insurance, medicine, advertising
    something must be going up at an unusual rate. Or are they
    increasing spending in all areas at about the same rate.

    I haven’t heard any happy employees because their wages have been
    going up at the rate our health costs are going up. Or building
    owners who get rent increases every year. anyway you get the idea
    something is very much out of wack and any accountant could identify
    it in a few minutes.

    Posted by: Bob | February 24th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

  • I read your column every week in the Vacaville Reporter. I
    always look forward to it. I was especially happy to see that the
    economic recovery bill includes COBRA relief. I believe my case is
    just one among millions. I lost my job of 23 years on August 29th.
    After doing research, I find that the provisions for COBRA relief are
    that the Job loss had to be after September 1st, which means I am not
    eligible! My COBRA payment for my husband and I is $950 a month. I
    am 61 years old and have been applying for jobs since September.
    I’ve had one interview. I have a Masters degree and am now also
    applying for temporary jobs, just to widen the pool of possibilities.
    I support my elderly mother. Like others, my savings and 401(k)
    have lost so much value that I will need to continue working until
    I’m 70, if I can get a job. I’ve written to my congressional
    representative to encourage his support for the universal healthcare
    that President Obama is proposing.

    Posted by: Barbara | February 26th, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  • In your writings you state that everyone you know has a horror story when it comes to health care. I don’t have any horror stories. I’ve had polio as an infant and cancer as an adult. I’m 55 years old and have raised 3 children. In fact, what I could tell you are the number of excellent experiences I have had. I do take responsiblity in my medical choices and have had to be assertive at times but I’m that way in every area of my life. I am not a college graduate and I come from a family background of divorce and have worked since I was 16 years old.

    You ask who I would trust to manage health care. Haven’t you been observing the last few months of California’s budget fiasco? Have you read that our California State Controller spent 2 billion of tax payer money to refurnish his offices? I would trust doctors and insurance companies simply due to the fact that for their crimes we can put them in jail. It is so rare that a “public servant” is put in jail. Our “public servants” have also decided they need their own special form of health care benefits. Now, that tells me something about their priorities. If in fact they ever submitted to being put in the same system as those they are being paid to serve – then I might reconsider.

    The bottom line is that people need to take responsiblity for their lives. Nothing is free. Do I want cable or do I want to pay my bills? Do I want to live within my income or use the charge card? Do I say no to food that is unhealthy or suffer the consequences of obesity and diabetes? People are making these choices everyday and that is one of the reasons our healthcare system is suffering so much. And finally, do I blame doctors and sue them because of bad choices I have made in my life? What a concept! Personal responsiblity and honesty – something no longer valued in the homes and certaintly not in our media.

    Nancy W

    Posted by: Nancy W | February 27th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

  • Universal Healthcare is a much used slogan theses days, along with the words Healthcare Reform. However, I get the feeling that Healthcare Reform and Universal Healthcare simply mean getting 49 million uninsured into some program; well, that is not reform as I understand it!
    Our whole system needs to be changed so that you’ll be covered from cradle to grave, and should not depend on having a job. We most likely would have universal care today, if the mistake had not been made many years ago when employers started providing healthcare to their employees and their dependents. A sore point with me is the kind of healthcare public employees, especially firefighters and law enforcement officers, have, programs that the rest of us, who help foot the bill, can only dream about. Most of these people additionally qualify for solid 24 carat gold pensions, most often after only 30 years on the job. No wonder that cities and communities are faced with bankruptcy. My idea of universal healthcare is a plan where we are all treated the same, with the same benefits, from the President of our country and on down to the people who work in hotels, restaurants and so on, . . .providing they are legal residents.
    This will undoubtedly mean that the people with the solid gold plans will have to give up something, but so be it!



    Posted by: Aage | February 27th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

  • I have been active with HealthcareNOW, so to push Single Payer more to the center, I have a lunatic fringe approach to giving credit for compliance to participation programs that make practitioners education (and patient concerns) an asset growing investment. WE HAVE TO PAY PEOPLE TO DO WHAT’S GOOD FOR THEM. Foreign aide should ONLY be health-related because if military spending was phased out there could be NO TAXES (with a three branch economy.)

    Posted by: Brad4d | March 29th, 2009 at 7:34 am

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