Mindy Oberne: Lowering Medicare eligibility age is first step to real reform | TheUnion.com

Mindy Oberne: Lowering Medicare eligibility age is first step to real reform

I’ve been watching as our representatives in Washington twist themselves into a pretzel trying to fix our health care system while ignoring the 600-pound gorilla in the room — the health insurance industry.

This reminds me of a story I read on the Physicians for a National Health Program website (PNHP) about a little town called Libby, Montana. After decades of environmental neglect, their vermiculite mine resulted in killing hundreds and sickening thousands of residents in Libby and northwest Montana. A lawsuit was eventually won by the mining company leaving residents on their own.

Now go to Washington D.C., 2009, where the Affordable Care Act was being created and the president said all ideas “are on the table.” The Senate Health Committee to craft the bill was chaired by Senator Max Baucus. In reality, Baucus’ chief health advisor, Liz Fowler, a former Wellpoint executive, basically wrote the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that we keep the insurance companies as the payer of our health-care system.

When a group of doctors stood up at one of the meetings to demand that someone be at the table to represent single payer, he had them escorted out by the police, saying, “I guess we need more police.”

Back to Libby, Montana, the state of which Baucus is a senator. Aware of the situation in Libby, Baucus inserted a section into the health reform bill that allowed everyone in Libby to be covered my Medicare.

Here’s what Baucus said why he did that: “The people of Libby have been poisoned and have been dying for a decade. New residents continue to get sick all the time. Public health tragedies like this could happen in any town in America. We need this type of mechanism to help people when they need it most.”

The sad part is tragedies are happening like this all over the country. Over 45,000 uninsured people die needlessly each year. That’s a 9/11 every three weeks. Financial ruin is another tragic result of our health care system. Over 60 percent of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills, and 75 percent of those people had health insurance at the time they got sick.

No one goes broke due to medical bills in a single-payer system.

Our health-care costs in this country are growing faster than our GDP. This is unsustainable. Health care may be a complicated matter, but starting reform by changing to a single-payer system is not a complicated solution.

If we just incrementally lowered the eligibility age for Medicare until we were all in the system, we will have made the first necessary step toward real health-care reform.

Mindy Oberne lives in Grass Valley.

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