Steffie Woolhandler, an internist at Cambridge Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., last month treated a patient who had a burn on his upper chest and a broken leg. With both injuries, Woolhandler ordered the man to spend three weeks in hospital. Like many patients in the predominantly free-enterprise U.S. medical system, the man’s medical expenses were covered by a private medical insurance company.
Said Woolhandler: “The company had a nurse call me every single day, challenging me on the hospital stay.”
Frustration with private insurance companies is just one of many factors that are prompting some American medical experts to declare themselves in favor of the United States adopting a government-backed medical insurance system similar to Canada’s. Said Woolhandler:
“I know you have problems in Canada with your health-care system, but we in the U.S. would be thrilled to have your problems. ’ ’ Proponents of the Canadian way argue that something like it would make U.S. health care more equitable and less expensive. Although virtually all Canadians are covered by government-backed medicare systems, U.S. government figures
show that 37 million Americans—or 15 per cent of the population—are too poor to afford health-insurance coverage.
The new interest in a national medicare system represents a major ideological shift. David Himmelstein, an assistant professor of
medicine at Harvard University in Cambridge and national co-ordinator of an organization called Physicians for a National Health Program, said that the reasons for the turnaround are obvious. So far, in the field of medical care,
said Himmelstein, “everything we’ve tried has been a disaster.”
A grim picture of inequities in the U.S. system emerged from a report published in Washington, D.C., last month by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. The report said that medical care is probably out of reach for more than half of all Americans, who are uninsured, underinsured or dependent on Medicaid, the minimal state-run medicare program for the poorest U.S. citizens. At the same time, costs have soared. According to the federal government’s Healthcare Financing Administration in Washington, total U.S. health-care costs will reach $630 billion this year, up from $480 billion four years ago.
Support for Canadian-style medicare in the United States is growing. Last February, the AFL-CIO, a grouping of labor unions with 14.2 million members, endorsed the idea. As well, the National Leadership Commission on Health Care, a private group made up of representatives of big business, labor and parts of the health-care industry, issued a call last January for a national health system of universal minimum health-insurance coverage.
With pressure building, various legislative and governmental bodies, including a g U.S. Senate committee, a S presidential commission and ö a team at the federal departB ment of health and human g services, are all preparing re2 ports on medicare. With a ï coalition of health-care pro5 fessionals, labor organiza5 tions and big business anxious to find a way to control medical costs, it seemed increasingly likely that the United States will eventually join Canada and other nations in adopting some kind of nationalized health program.
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