Make Healthcare A Campaign Issue

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - May 21, 2008

More than a decade-and-a-half ago Hillary Clinton set out to reform the nation’s healthcare system. She called together every policy wonk she could find on the subject, listened to endless testimony and read reams and reams of research on the subject.

Then, with much fanfare, the first lady and her healthcare experts issued their report - and with a $90 million advertising campaign, America’s healthcare-for-profit industries (they call themselves pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, even doctors) shredded it.

Soon thereafter, Newt Gingrich and his right wing faithful took out their contract on America and won control of Congress and - in 2000 - the presidency, and we have heard nothing since about improving a so-called healthcare system that leaves 46 million of our fellow citizens without medical insurance coverage.

With one exception. After the 2006 election, congressional Democrats sent President George W. Bush a bill that would expand healthcare coverage to more impoverished children. Bush, of course, vetoed the bill.

In her bid to be the 2008 Democratic candidate for president, Mrs. Clinton has been - once again - talking a good deal about healthcare. So, too, has her opponent and the presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Indeed, in debate after debate over the past two years, they’ve been parsing every page of each other’s plans as if they were new critics working over a T.S. Eliot poem.

Even John McCain trumpets on his website that he’s for “innovative, portable and affordable” healthcare for all.

What candidate wouldn’t be? Across the country, from Hackensack to Hawi, Americans face rising healthcare costs and the threat of losing their coverage.

Consider, for example, what happened to the 1,900 Aloha Airlines employees who lost their jobs six weeks ago. They also lost their health insurance. With luck, those 1,900 will find full-time jobs that offer health care coverage. But there probably isn’t enough luck around to cover all of them.

Too bad. So sad. Welcome to America’s so-called healthcare system. System? Heh.

So what do you do? The Aloha Airlines folks held a fundraiser outside Murphy’s Bar and Grill recently to help raise money for fellow former employees who have bills for chemotherapy and radiation.

That’s Hawaii. That’s aloha. But you can’t party long enough or hard enough to make up for the huge, gaping holes in America’s so-called healthcare system.

Recently I found myself talking with a friend of mine who is a family practice physician - the doorkeepers of the world’s healthcare systems. Asked by his columnist buddy about the state of America’s healthcare system, he shook his head and said:

“It’s broken. It’s broken. And everyone knows it’s broken. Doctors know it. Nurses know it. Hospitals know it. Insurance companies know it.

“But too many people, too many interests have too much invested in it as it is. They refuse to stop, think and undertake the considerable effort and sacrifice it would take to fix it.”

That said, Hawaii is not as bad as most of the rest of the country. Because of the state’s Prepaid Health Care Act, Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of uninsured in the country - 9.6 percent.

Still, 9.6 percent means that, according to the Hawaii Uninsured Project, “based on a five-year average, it is estimated that 120,740 persons in Hawaii are without healthcare coverage.”

More than one-third of Hawaii’s uninsured adults are working 20 hours or more per week. A disproportionate number of them are keiki o ka aina, native Hawaiians. Too many are the economically vulnerable young - 19-34 years of age.

So “not as bad off” is still pretty damned bad. Any politician who fails to address seriously the issue of healthcare in election year 2008 should be lef

speaking to gatherings of ... nobody.

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