Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oysters for Health Care

Oysters for Health Care


By: Bill Moyers and Michael Winship,

t r u t h o u t | Perspective


July 18, 2009


This is a story of health care and two Americans; a

tale of two citizens, if you will.


This week, Regina Benjamin was nominated by President

Obama as our next surgeon general, charged with

educating Americans on medical issues and overseeing

the United States Public Health Service. She was the

first African-American woman to head a state medical

society, a member of the board of trustees of the

American Medical Association and last year was named

the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius award."


But more important, she's a country doctor, a family

physician along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, serving the

poor and uninsured - white, black and Asian. After

Hurricane Katrina destroyed her clinic - the second

time a hurricane had done so - she mortgaged her own

home to rebuild it. The day it was to reopen, a fire

burned the clinic to the ground. Moving to a trailer,

Dr. Benjamin and her staff never missed a day of work.


Stan Wright, the tobacco-chewing mayor of Bayou La

Batre, the small shrimp-fishing community in which Dr.

Benjamin practices, told National Public Radio, "She'll

do whatever she's gotta do to make sure everyone's

taken care of."


Benjamin will no doubt bring that same ethic to the

fight for health care reform. When President Obama

announced her nomination in a Rose Garden ceremony

Monday, Dr. Benjamin said, "These are trying times in

the health care field, and as a nation, we have reached

a sobering realization. Our health care system simply

cannot continue on the path that we're on. Millions of

Americans can't afford health insurance or they don't

have the basic health services available where they

live." Although the clinic has not been able to give

Dr. Benjamin a salary for years - Mayor Wright says

she's owed over $300,000 - she buys medicine for her

patients out of her own pocket.


In fact, many of the folks in Regina Benjamin's bayou

town are so poor that sometimes she's paid with a pint

of oysters or a couple of fish. She's fine with that.

And she makes house calls.


Now meet H. Edward Hanway, chairman and CEO of CIGNA,

the country's fourth-largest insurance company. At the

beginning of the year, CIGNA blamed hard economic times

when it announced the layoff of 1,100 employees, but it

reported first-quarter profits of $208 million on

revenues of nearly $5 billion. Mr. Hanway has announced

his retirement at the end of the year, and the living

will be easy for him, financially at least. He made

$11.4 million in 2008, according to The Associated

Press, and some years more than that.


That's a lot of oysters, although he lags behind Ron

Williams, CEO of Aetna Insurance, who made $17.4

million last year, or John Hammergren, the head of

McKesson, the biggest health care company in the world.

His compensation was $29.7 million.


Here's the difference. To Dr. Regina Benjamin, health

care is a public service, helping people in need with

grace and compassion. To Ed Hanway and his highly paid

friends, it's big business, a commodity to be sold to

those who can afford it. And woe to anyone who gets

between them and the profits they reap from sick people.


That's what Wendell Potter, the former CIGNA executive

turned health care reform advocate, told us on last

week's edition of "Bill Moyers Journal."


"Just about every time there has been significant

legislation before Congress, the industry has been able

to kill it," he said. "Yeah, the status quo works for

them. They don't like to have any regulation forced on

them or laws forced on them. They don't want to have

any competition from the federal government, or any

additional regulation from the federal government. They

say they will accept it. But the behavior is that they will not."


As we reported last week, that behavior includes

spending nearly a million and a half a day to make sure

health care reform comes out their way. Over the years,

they've lavished millions on the politicians who are

writing and voting on health care reform. Now it's payback time.


Proposed legislation finally is coming out of House and

Senate committees, and Thursday's Los Angeles Times

reported "signs that the debate was moving into a more

bruising phase in which insurance companies, hospitals

and others fight to shape the details of legislative

provisions that affect them."


It's going to get ugly, especially now that some

Democrats, according to ABC News, are contemplating new

taxes on health insurance and pharmaceutical companies

to help pay for reform, perhaps as much as $100 billion worth.


In other words, no more Mister Nice Guy. Those TV

commercials you've been seeing from the health care

companies about their generosity and miracles of modern

medicine are about to change, as the opposition shifts

gears from charm to alarm. It's the war against the

Clinton health care plan all over again.


This time, don't let them scare you. "It should not be

this hard for doctors and other health care providers

to care for their patients," Dr. Regina Benjamin said

when she was nominated this week. "It shouldn't be this

expensive for Americans to get health care in this country."




Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is

senior writer of the weekly public affairs program

"Bill Moyers Journal," which airs Friday nights on PBS.

Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at Research provided by producer Gail

Ablow and associate producer Julia Conley.


1 comment:

Brittanicus said...

It is a shame that some Americans are so gullible, to the outlandish propaganda and lies spat in the newspapers, television and radio about Obama’s health care agenda. They have demonized the British, Canadian and other worthy plans. Hidden under a disguise cover, these radical entities are determined to keep the special interest organizations in absolute power. Comprising of the money-draining profitable insurance companies and their rich stockholders. They don't want any changes to the broken system of medical care, because it will hurt the status quo. I was born in England, in the county of Sussex and until the inception of the European Union and the European Parliament dictating to Britain. That they must accept millions of foreign workers, the nations medical system was exemplary. I never had to wonder if I would have to file bankruptcy, to pay my medical bills, or listen to the incessant ring of debt collectors on the phone.

On several occasions I ended up in the cottage hospital and their was never a cost applied to it, never a ream of paperwork. No doctor, no hospital or specialist ask me for my Social Security number, drivers license or if I was covered by a predatory for-profit insurer. Today the British Isles is being submerged under a barrage of legal and illegal immigrants, who have never paid into the system, have caused some rationing. Prior to the importation of foreign labor my trips to doctor, to hospital, the eye or a dentist was paid from my taxation. Unless we pass a national health care agenda, Americans will never know what it's like to breeze through their lives, without worrying about paying for health care? Tell your Senators and Congressman you want an alternative to the--GET RICH-- insurance companies, before a Universal health care is killed. 202-224-312 REMEMBER THE INVESTORS AND STOCKHOLDERS DON'T WANT THEIR PIECE OF THE $$$TRILLION$$$ DOLLAR PIE DISTURBED. EVEN SOME POLITICIANS HAVE THEIR DIRTY FINGERS IN THE PIE?