To Promote the General Welfare: Health Care Legislation

To those who believe the Constitution does not include health care reform, I suggest that they re-read the preamble to the Constitution, which says that in order to form a more perfect union we must, " domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense," and "promote the general welfare..."

Access to affordable health care will help insure domestic tranquility, it will provide a common defense against illness and the exorbitant cost of health care, and it will indeed promote the general welfare. Nothing is more crucial to the general welfare of American citizens than their health and that requires access to affordable health care.

In the midst of all the misinformation and street theater surrounding the issue, Americans who recognize the need for health care legislation need to speak to their extended families and neighbors about what the legislation will do for them. Clarity is of the essence.

Health care legislation will accomplish three essential objectives:

1) It will ensure that Americans have health insurance even when they lose their jobs or are between jobs.

2) It will ensure that Americans who suffer catastrophic illnesses will not have to lose their homes or go bankrupt in order to pay for treatment and hospitalization.

3) It will cover children who are out of college, but have not yet found jobs.

Also -- If the legislation includes a public option -- it will lower costs by offering the choice of less-costly insurance.

The legislation, if passed, won't satisfy everyone, but if it includes at least three if not all of the above, it will be a major step forward. Considering the well-financed campaign by powerful interests to defeat health care legislation--passing it with three of the above would be a real victory.

My passion for achieving health care reform stems from several real-life experiences. One summer, when I was in college, I worked for an insurance company. I was hired to re-write form letters, and to compose letters to policyholders after talking with them on the telephone. Often, I had to inform policyholders who had paid their premiums regularly and on time, that they were not covered for treatments and hospitalizations they thought they were insured for -- and I sometimes had to tell them so when they were already in the hospital or newly discharged. I was still young and idealistic enough to be astonished that an insurance company, and the respectable executives who ran it, were deliberately taking advantage of people when they were most vulnerable -- in order to make a profit. I left before the end of the summer.

Years later, I was a public relations person for a teaching hospital. One of the stories I worked on for a television news report was about a twenty-five-year old woman who was placed on an artificial heart pump (the first patient to have the pump in that hospital) while she waited for a donor heart. When I spoke with her parents, her mother told me they had mortgaged their home and gone into overwhelming debt to pay for her treatment. The young woman eventually got the donor heart, but she died less than a year after her transplant. When she died, I thought of that conversation with her mother and how her parents had now lost their only daughter -- and were facing unimaginable debt.

In my work, I witnessed men, women and children who turn to the Emergency Room as a last resort when they are ill because they don't have health care insurance. In 1992, I worked with two producers from NBC News who featured the hospital's Emergency Room in a Tom Brokaw primetime special on how emergency rooms are serving the uninsured. After all these years, one would think by now, we would have insurance for the uninsured.

I witnessed, also, the mountains of paperwork that must be completed by patients and insurers and processed by hospitals -- and how archaic and repetitive it is.

More recently, on a flight, I sat next to a sixty-one year old New Jersey woman who was on the second leg of a connecting flight from Turkey where she'd gone to have crowns put on her teeth. She told me the cost per tooth, in Turkey, was one-eighth of what it would have cost her in the US.

This is the United States of America -- surely we can do better to promote the general welfare -- the good health -- of our citizens.