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Is Our High-Tech Health Care System Better Than War-Ravaged Sudan's?

Americans have shaped our technology into a health care system that is less humane than those in nations plagued by colonialism and war.

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My son in Vermont has no such coverage. He works as a chef in a small restaurant and is one of the estimated 47 million uninsured Americans. Like most, he’s in debt. Too young for Medicare, and struggling to make ends meet, he lost his private healthcare coverage last June by failing to make a monthly payment on time.

Others among our fellow citizens are denied coverage by private insurers because they are sick. Cancer, diabetes, or heart conditions make them "poor risks" for profit-driven companies.  Still others have coverage tied to their employment, marital status, parents, or tuition payments. And finally, others are too poor to do more than put food on the table.

In other words, it's a completely insane system that makes sense only to those who reap profits from it.

Is this any less bizarre than that woman being carried down the road to a clinic that barely exists?

In short, it seems that we in the U.S. have shaped our technology, or allowed it to shape us, into a system which at its very essence is less humane than one ravaged by colonialism and war.

This is why a "public option" must be central to any healthcare reform. It offers an alternative for the uninsured, while serving as a yardstick to measure the performance of a private healthcare industry notorious for its greed and runaway costs.

This public option is precisely what Republicans and conservative Democrats want to strip from the reform package. Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley argues that a government-run plan "will ultimately force private insurers out of business," and that its supporters are "trying to open a back door toward a fully government-run, or single-payer, health system like those in Canada or England." Even as polls indicate that most Americans favor a public option, the Senate shows itself a rich man’s club whose members are all too indebted to the healthcare industry.

Two statistics are often quoted by President Obama in arguing the case for healthcare reform. One is that Americans pay one and a half times as much as citizens of other industrial nations, and have a lower life expectancy. The other: our spending on healthcare accounts for one sixth of our national economy.

However, neither statistic adequately reflects what we do not spend individually because we can't afford it -- the inequity that translates into life or death for millions of Americans who, like my son, might not feel they had the luxury of going to the hospital.

In my own mind, the image of that woman being carried down the road in such a determined fashion, despite the mud and heat, has taken on special meaning in the context of the present debate. It was the urgency that surrounded her. We could learn from that. We who may carelessly assume that our own system is somehow more "civilized," simply because our resources are more abundant and our technology more sophisticated, need to rediscover our collective caring -- to understand access to healthcare as a basic human right.

David Morse is an independent journalist and political analyst. He can be reached at

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