Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Journal--That of Bill Moyers, not Wall Street

Check out this week's Bill Moyers Journal on PBS here. Normally the show is comprised of Bill Moyers interviewing a group or two of people along with the classic opinion essays scribed by him and Michael Winship. However, this week's episode is mostly a documentary film called Critical Condition by filmmaker Roger Weisberg. This touching film is a must-see for those who care about health care reform.

Weisberg follows three people who don't have health insurance and require crucial and expensive treatment for their ailments. All three either are currently working or worked up until recently, and those who no longer work have spouses who do. All three make too much money to qualify for Medicaid (the government program that pays for health care for the poor, funded half by states and half by the federal government). They can't afford insurance premiums and/or would be denied for a pre-existing condition. The health of all three suffers as a result.

This film succeeds in how moving it is, how it captures the emotions of these victims of our health care systems and their families. It conveys the basic fact that people get sicker and die when they don't have health insurance. Conservatives like to warn of the terrible specter of "rationing" that is assumed to accompany health care reform as if our current system doesn't ration care. They couldn't be more out of touch with reality. As one doctor puts it in the film, our system rations care based on ability to pay, and as a result people die (today's NY Times editorial on the uninsured cites a study finding that 18,000 Americans die each year from not having insurance).

For progressives, it's a great reminder of why we fight to cover the uninsured and reform health care. For moderates and even conservatives who are on the fence on health care reform, this movie can only tip them in favor of reform by their heartstrings. Don't just read this, watch it! Email it to your moderate and conservative friends as well!


Besides so movingly making the ethical case for covering the uninsured, the film touches on some interesting policy points. At the start of the film, none of the victims qualify for Medicaid because their incomes are too high. One qualifies for Medicaid two days before he dies, way too late. This suggest that despite having Medicaid as a safety net, many recently unemployed people fall through the cracks in our current system. They have to wait until their annual income is demonstrably lower as a result of unemployment.

The health care legislation in the House, HR 3200, would raise the income to be eligible for Medicaid, so perhaps some of the working families in the film would qualify after health care reform without losing their job. For those that wouldn't, they would qualify for subsidies to help purchase either regulated private insurance plans or a government-managed plan under the proposed insurance exchanges. Make no mistake, the House bill will reduce the uninsured and make things better for families like those in the film, improving health and reducing medically incurred debt.

However, the Congressional Budget Office found that HR 3200 would not cover every American, leaving 3% uninsured. Although HR 3200 will make things better for working class families, a better choice would be to create a single-payer health care system, like that of Canada. If only the Democratic leadership had moved forward with Rep. John Conyers's HR 676 (for more info, see here), which would create a single-payer health care system in which every American citizen is insured, like in Canada. It's the only way to guarantee that nobody goes without health care.


As always, Bill Moyers puts it best. Here's how he concludes this week's Journal:

And on the ground, those congressional town hall meetings have been hijacked by yelling, jeering, and belligerent shock troops of protest who have turned the media spotlight on themselves, away from the issue of how to get health care to the people who need but can't afford it.

When all the flash and fury have turned to ash, here's what remains: our present system treats medicine as a profit center instead of a human need and public service.

Side note on Bill Moyers: Bill Moyers is a great American progressive hero. Unlike most journalists, he actually investigates the issues instead of just reporting what the government, think tanks, and big corporations have to say. Over more than 30 years, he's been one of luminaries of the left in this country, making the case for a fairer economy and a stronger progressive people's movement. He is one of the most prominent supporters of the single payer health care solution.

His show appears weekly on PBS. Watch it! Next week's episode is another documentary, this time about the problems associated with our health care system being driven by profits. Every episode is posted online and available permanently in the archive. In particular, I recommend the May 22nd episode with an interview of single-payer advocates Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Sidney Wolfe, and the July 10th episode with Wendell Potter, a former health insurance company executive turned supporter of health care reform.

No comments:

Post a Comment