My Turn: Nation's medical care is the best, if you're in Congress

Posted: Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Empathy is one of the most important qualities a person can have. Every religion has some version of the "Golden Rule." The ability to put yourself in another person's shoes and feel what they feel is critically important in a just and civilized society.

Let's put ourselves in the shoes of Rep. Don Young, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich, and all the members of Congress who will be voting on a major health care bill this summer. What is their personal experience with catastrophic illness, chronic disease, and health care insurance, and how might that affect their decisions on reforming the health care system? How much empathy do they have for the uninsured, the under-insured, and the Americans who cannot afford their medications?

According to Don Sloan in "Practicing Medicine Without a License!", the 535 members of Congress and their families have health insurance that includes unlimited doctor office visits, covers all accidents, routine exams, physical therapy, labs and x-rays, unlimited hospital visits and stays, certain chronic care and rehab, full prescription coverage, and unlimited specialty consultations. There are no deductibles and no co-pays. They pay $35 a month and the insurance is for life (no matter how long they serve in Congress).

In addition, the insurance, health care, and drug company lobbyists contribute millions of dollars to the re-election campaigns of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, skewing the democratic process away from empathy and what's right to winning the next election.

Meanwhile, every year in Juneau and in cities across America, there is a spaghetti feed, a car wash, or some other kind of heart-wrenching fundraiser to help pay the medical bills for someone's child, or to raise the money to get treatment for their spouse. It's a drop in the bucket. More than 50 percent of bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills.

Incredibly, we've heard some Republicans say that we have the "best medical system in the world." This is not true unless you're in Congress. Do your homework and you'll see just by looking up the statistics of the United States versus other industrialized countries. Then, call or e-mail our elected representatives and tell them this is the time for empathy to be their guiding light. No matter how flawed the health care bill is in their heavily insured eyes, it certainly beats the status quo for the rest of America.

• Barbara Belknap is a Juneau resident.

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