IWOULD LIKE to see a single-payer health system in America, one that eliminates the bureaucracy and profits of the insurance companies.
Yet I've added my name to the list of endorsers of the governor's "Prescription for Pennsylvania" (Rx4Pa). I know there are some who will ask: If you support a single-payer plan, why are you supporting Rx4Pa?
The answer is simple. I see supporting the governor's plan as the most humane and progressive step to getting a single-payer system.
Here are the choices: I can either support Rx4Pa, which will cover 155,300 Pennsylvanians in the year to come, or work to defeat it, telling people who don't have health insurance they have to wait for coverage until there is a perfect plan.
I believe if we asked the uninsured what they want - coverage as soon as possible or waiting for the perfect plan to be passed - the overwhelming majority would say coverage as soon as possible.
That's why supporting Rx4Pa is the most humane way to get a single-payer system. I don't want to be someone who argues that the only way we can achieve social progress is by depriving people of what they need.
I fear that is the strategy leading some-single payer advocates to attack Rx4Pa. They are afraid that if almost everyone gets insurance, it will be harder for a single-payer plan in the future.
That might be correct, but where is the humanity in such a strategy?
If all of us who believe every American should have access to quality health care supports Rx4Pa, we will have a real chance at winning a significant victory, not only for the uninsured, but for those who pay for health insurance, and for businesses, medical practitioners and patients.
The collection of bills known as Rx4Pa will provide affordable care. Unemployed and low-wage workers will be able to buy coverage on a sliding scale of $10 to $70 a month, based on their income, hundreds less than what it costs today. The plan will even include prescriptions and behavioral health care.
Rx4Pa will also help those who have insurance by driving rates down by about 10 percent. The rates will be lowered through better regulations, stopping hospitals from charging for secondary infections developed while patients are in the hospital, spreading the cost across all businesses, using clinics instead of emergency rooms for nonemergency services, and allowing midwives, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide all the services they are trained to deliver.
Within a few years, it may become clear that a single-payer system is the best. While that lesson is being learned, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens will finally have access to health care. But if Rx4Pa is defeated, the uninsured will continue to be denied a basic human right, access to health care.
ISN'T IT BETTER to win the hearts and minds of citizens by offering improvements than it is to add to the human suffering by denying people health care and hoping at some point the pain will be enough to pass a single-payer plan?
There is no doubt in my mind that in the years to come there will be opportunities to improve Rx4Pa. I intend to be one of the voices advocating for improvements and a national single-payer system. The question is, what should be done while we fight?
Stopping Rx4PA will stop hundreds of thousands of poor and working people from getting the medical coverage they so badly need. Fighting the plan allows big-box stores, like Wal-Mart, to avoid their responsibilities, allows insurance companies to continue to avoid real regulation and does nothing to help small business and the self-employed.
Should people have health insurance while Rx4PA is being improved or denied access to care until the plan is perfect?
I think the answer is obvious. For those who don't agree it's better to have access to health care while the delivery is being improved, here is what I ask:
Would you give up your imperfect health insurance until single-payer is the law? If not, why demand that the uninsured do what you are unwilling to - go without coverage until the perfect system is passed? *
Lance Haver is head of the city's consumer office.