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Time to fix the system

May 18, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

To the editor:

There is something definitively wrong with our healthcare system. Everyone acknowledges it. But no one seems to have the will to stand up and ask what's been on our minds all along. If there are people out there getting quality medical care for a fraction of what you're paying now, why in the world should it be you getting shafted?

The answer is, unfortunately, because of where you live. The United States spends an extraordinary amount of private sector dollars on healthcare, meaning the average person pays much more out of their paycheck than they should have to. And even depending on where you live within the US, and depending on the type of coverage you have, the amount you pay can vary significantly, and sometimes even fatefully.

There are those who believe that the healthcare system in the U.S. is a free market. But that is simply not true. After decades of consolidation, there are only a handful of health insurance and hospital companies dominating the healthcare industry. And this can lead many of these companies to lose the incentive to innovate or respond appropriately to changing customer needs. And in many states, the healthcare systems are run by just one or two gigantic organizations - some, like Lee Health, at the county level - with very little oversight of how they conduct their business or set prices.

This leads to staggering variations in the costs of medical procedures, doctor's visits, or basic coverage that can effectively discriminate against you simply because of where you live. And just because you're covered by your employer or pay for your coverage yourself doesn't mean you can escape the skyrocketing costs of healthcare.

The U.S. pays around 18 percent of its total GDP on healthcare alone, far higher than any of its industrialized peers, and it is estimated that these rising healthcare costs are already among the biggest drivers of public and private debt. While the U.S. pays similar amounts in terms of public sector money on healthcare, with programs like Medicare and Medicaid, private sector dollars - i.e. the amount the average person has to pay out of their own pocket - is unsustainably high.

The solution to the double problem of healthcare access and affordability lies in boldly reforming how we deliver and pay for health services. The Affordable Care Act was an honest but flawed attempt that has suffered from undue attacks and interventions that have negatively impacted its effectiveness. What we need is universal coverage for every American under a popular federal program like Medicare. The infrastructure already exists to accommodate millions of new enrollees; all it would take is a simple law that drops the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 0 and creates a progressive system that prioritizes those little to no ability to pay for the care they need.

Don't take my word for it. Todd Truax, currently a Democratic candidate for Florida's 19th congressional district, has been a healthcare administrator in Southwest Florida for over 20 years, bringing long-term care and counseling services to seniors in need. Truax has seen the deep flaws and cracks in the system for years as he's talked with families and seen their struggles to afford basic care not just for themselves, but for their loved ones as well. One of his main goals if elected to Congress is to work alongside his peers to craft, sponsor, and pass Medicare-for-all, a plan that has been in the works for years and would require little more than legislation expanding eligibility and consolidating current popular programs, like the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid, into one federal healthcare provider that can effectively compete with private insurance companies for coverage and negotiate lower costs from hospitals and doctors for the care patients deserve.

"What we have now," Truax says, "is a system that puts profits over people. I have always believed that healthcare is a fundamental human right, because without healthcare, people are denied the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of their own happiness as they see fit. If we don't have a healthy workforce, our economy suffers. If we don't have healthy kids, our future as a society suffers. It is so important to me that every American, regardless of their race, gender, income, or anything else, has to be covered by a universal system that provides an essential level of care across the board."

To be sure, Truax knows he will face stiff opposition and lobbying efforts from Big Health, Big Pharma, and Big Hospitals, but all that is secondary to him. "What really drives me in my work," Truax notes, "is the smiles on people's faces when I work with them to give them the care they need. There's no feeling like feeling you're well taken care of. That's what I'm fighting to put back in our system."

Carmen Negron

Cape Coral



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