One of our goals here at the Prescription Access Litigation Blog is to highlight the good work being done by members of PAL’s coalition of 130+ organizations. Below is an July 22 editorial from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, written by Shirlee Zane, CEO of the Council on Aging of Sonoma County (CA). The Council on Aging is a member of the PAL Coalition. To see the original article, click here.

Universal health care is a moral necessity By SHIRLEE ZANE

Shirlee Zane is a Santa Rosa resident and the chief executive officer of the Council on Aging.; During my recent visit to the Lake District in England, my father-in-law, George Kingston, hiked up a 1,000-foot hill and hiked five miles around a lake on a rugged, swampy trail. He is almost 88 years old, and I have been watching him age for the past few years. I have been able to do my own independent study of health and aging in the United Kingdom through my numerous trips to England.

Universal health care was adopted in England when the World War II veterans came home wounded and insisted on it. When Margaret Thatcher came into power, she virtually undid almost all of the government programs with the exception of the National Health System. She knew she would be quickly voted out of office if she touched it.

I have been a believer in universal health care for more than 10 years. I believe we have come to a point in our history as a nation when we simply can’t afford to not have it. Lives are at stake, and the underlying values of the medical profession are being eroded so that the self interests of industry profits can be satisfied. Every day across the United States men, women and children experience health care crises. With 40 million people without even basic health care insurance, these crises often lead to homelessness, bankruptcy and loss of home ownership. The material losses simply cannot measure the emotional losses and stress that accompany them: depression, anxiety, despair and sometimes suicide. Ten years ago, when Hilary Clinton tried to restructure health care, about 40 percent of Americans believed we needed a national health care program. Today that figure has risen to more than 70 percent of Americans. We simply are no longer buying the myth that socialized medicine is bad for us, because the facts bear otherwise. A report in 2000 by the World Health Organization put the United States 37th out of 190 nations in health care services. The 36 countries that have lower infant mortality and greater longevity all have one thing in common: They have a form of universal health care. This ranking of the United States also explodes the myth that we have the best medical care in the world.

The only universal health care program we have, Medicare, is now being privatized; it is being financially tapped by private HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry through the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Medicare has less than 2 percent overhead, but our current system of private insurance has 25 percent to 30 percent overhead. It is no surprise that we pay more for health care than any other country in the world with that kind of obscene profit margin.

Another “myth” that has long been circulated is the myth of waiting for procedures. A recent study demonstrated that if you have a serious disease, such as cancer, you will wait longer for surgery in the United States than you will for surgery in Canada. The wait for elective surgeries in Canada is longer, but then again, those are not life-threatening.

My father-in-law, who has spent a lot of time in the United States, once commented that he and his late wife thought Americans lived in a great deal of fear over whether they’d lose their jobs, health care or housing. Universal health care does more than assure health care for all, it also addresses the stress levels of the millions of people who live in fear that a medical crisis will destroy them financially.

We’ve long talked about the importance of “prevention in health care.” One of my observations of the English is that the National Health System encourages prevention and better health habits, such as walking and maintaining a healthy weight. My father-in-law frequently walks around his village on the hilly narrow roads. He also played a weekly nine holes of golf, walking the course, until a year ago.

Both the French and the English drink and smoke a great deal more than Americans but have much better overall health and live longer. Could this be because they have national health care?

Health care in a civilized society should be a right. It should be about people and not about profit. Our system that is largely based on profit is immoral when you consider that financial gain is being valued over lives of human beings. We must insist that our elected officials stop trying to please the health care industries and their lust for higher profit margins. We must demand affordable, accessible care for all so we can age with kindness, respect and without the dark cloud of fear that a medical crisis will destroy us.