Campaign 2008: Health Care Revisited
Note: This blog entry reflects my views, and not necessarily the position(s) of the Health Central Network or its other staff.
There's an expression that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. On paper, both presidential candidates say the same thing in different words-they're quacking ducks.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) requested and obtained statements from each of them on health care, education, and veterans. You can log on to www.nami.org to read these in detail. Health care issues included pre-existing conditions, portability of coverage, mental health and addictions coverage, and medications. McCain declined to comment under "medications."
Barack Obama proposes insuring every American through a wide array of health insurance plans, including many private health insurance options and a public plan. McCain proposes to make health insurance affordable only via health savings accounts - a tax rebate kind of thing. On paper, both parrot [I'm mixing my metaphors, I know] mental health parity. The truth is, in the last eight Republican years, we've had to wrestle the president to the mat on the parity issue.
If you don't recall, I'll jog your memory: in early 2008, NAMI gave each candidate a list of health care questions: Obama responded with point-by-point answers; McCain provided a one-paragraph statement about "personal responsibility." My problem with McCain is that he's talking a good talk to get elected, now that he knows a short sentence or two summing up his position won't suffice for mental health constitutents. Before this, he had no health care agenda on his platform.
The NAMI Web site, under its policy section, lists the status and updates of bills and laws in Congress that pertain to consumers. We were victorious on the Medicare legislation [HR 6331]-making critical reforms and improvements to the Medicare program for beneficiaries living with mental illness, but only because on July 15, 2008, the House and Senate overrode President Bush's veto. HR 6331 prevented a cut in fees to physicians and also improved the Part D drug benefit, establishing parity for cost sharing for outpatient mental health services. The president's chair must be sore from these various wrestling matches. He's claimed he'll sign the parity bill into law-I'm waiting on that one, too.
Barack Obama and his running mate, Joseph Biden, were co-sponsors on S.558-the mental health parity bill. [By the way Hillary Clinton was also a co-sponsor of S.558.]
OK, folks, here's the problem with the $2,500 John McCain tax credit for health insurance coverage: it's the only option he proposes for universal coverage, and it barely makes a dent in the cost of yearly insurance premiums for the average person. He will insure those of us with pre-existing conditions in a separate insurance pool, which wouldn't guarantee access to best practices medicine. Indeed, his Republican battle cry of allowing individual states to decide for themselves to do the right thing-without federal programs, interventions or protections-has been a dismal failure in the two decades that New York and other states refused to enact mental health parity laws. That's all I'll say about the Republican candidate.
Let's move on to Barack Obama. On his Web site, you can present your own ideas about health care and discuss them with others. This is the perfect chance to lobby for universal health care that mental health recipients can receive, even if they work at a gift shop in a mall or another minimum wage job, without risking going over an earnings limit and losing coverage for prescription drugs. I'm "presenting my idea" about this on www.barackobama.com, under his "Plan for a Healthy America."
Hey, he's listening.
Best of all, "Individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP [the president vetoed that, too] but still need financial assistance will receive an income-related federal subsidy to buy into the new public plan, or purchase a private health care plan." His version of an insurance pool? Guaranteed access via a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals who wish to purchase a private insurance plan. Insurers would have to issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums that will not depend on health status. The Exchange will require that all the plans offered are at least as generous as the new public plan and have the same standards for quality and efficiency.
The bottom line? Government will do what it's supposed to do.
In sum, Barack Obama's selling points:
• Principled and intelligent.
• A former civil rights lawyer.
• Co-sponsor on various Senate health and mental health care bills.
• The only candidate who is pro-choice in situations where a woman was the victim of rape or incest.
Folks, this last one is important to me. As a woman of child-bearing age who has schizophrenia, I know I couldn't give birth and expect someone to adopt my child who has a genetic link to the disease, and so the baby would be put in foster care. Also, if I risked a pregnancy, I could have a breakdown. I don't want to give birth to a child who could possibly develop schizophrenia.
If you have the right to make your choice, I expect the right to make my choice. This will not be an option under a Republican president, who nominates Supreme Court judges and would choose a candidate that veered far to the right. As it is now, the Supreme Court in recent years has whittled away the protections of the ADA Act, and I'll be writing about that in a forthcoming blog entry.
The election is Tuesday, November 4, 2008. I will be voting for Barack Obama.