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I Love My Socialist Kidney: Proof that a Public Option Works

What happened to the Republican party?

In the 1970s, Richard Nixon wanted to pass some form of universal health care. Republicans voted to help pass an expansion of Medicare that essentially created a public option for certain life-endangering conditions.

Today, the Republican party wants to kill any and all health care reform just to score political points. It’s an indefensible shift that shows just how out of touch they’ve become.

Sept. 28, 2009 | The day after this country elected Barack Obama its 44th president, a doctor told me I’d inherited from my father a rare form of cystic kidney disease and that I was already in renal failure. Beyond the devastation I felt on hearing this news, and despite having health insurance, my greatest fear in those first, foggy days was one that haunts millions of Americans. I was more terrified of being dropped or denied treatment by my insurer over some minuscule technicality than I was of facing the disease. After four years of progressive activism, delivery of Obama’s campaign promise of universal healthcare suddenly became very personal and urgent rather than simply a political goal for me.

A few weeks into my ordeal, however, I learned that my diagnosis qualified me for a little-known existing “public option,” or government health insurance plan. The same program had saved my father’s life, but I was frankly surprised to learn it still existed despite numerous legislative changes through the decades. Today, almost a year after my diagnosis and amid the disheartening acrimony and willful misinformation pervading our healthcare debate, I can bear witness to what constitutes “socialized medicine” in the United States.

My family’s 36-year journey with end-stage renal disease — the only long-term, chronic disease classification for which the U.S. government provides insurance coverage, regardless of age or income — offers a telling case study into what once met Congress’ standard of an unequivocal, moral imperative to provide public-financed health insurance. My family history mirrors exactly the period from 1973 to 2009, during which this entitlement program has allowed access to life-saving dialysis and kidney transplants, treatments previously denied to all but a very privileged few.

The story of the Medicare End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Program is illustrative of a government plan compelling private insurers to cover more Americans than they ever did when induced solely by market forces or their own good intentions. In today’s political parlance, as the president put it in his Sept. 9 address to a joint session of Congress, this translates to a public option that will “keep [private] insurance companies honest.” This history also presents a cautionary tale of how profit-driven forces chipped away at Medicare ESRD’s effectiveness, resulting in higher treatment costs and worse patient outcomes (compared with those of other industrial nations) for the 506,000 ESRD patients in the U.S. today.

Read the whole article here.


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