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Latinos for National Health Insurance (LNHI) is a coalition of Latino leaders in many fields, supporters and organizations, who feel passionately that what Latinos need, our country needs!, is a single payer national health insurance program where every person is covered from they time they are born, regardless of immigration status. We are working with Healthcare-NOW! to organize 20-30 Healthcare TRUTH HEARINGS in underserved Latino communities, where people will have an opportunity to tell their elected officials how the healthcare crisis is affecting their lives and that of their families.

It is the position of LNHI that healthcare is a basic human right and that the uninsured crisis is a national problem in need of a national solution. That solution, we believe, is a national health insurance system: publicly financed, privately delivered.

The current statistics are staggering: over 47 million men, women and children are uninsured -13 millions of them are Hispanic; and millions more are underinsured because of our current profit-driven healthcare. In 2007, in this rich nation of ours, it's unconscionable for any American to feel: "I can't afford to go to the doctor. I can't afford to pay for the medicine that I, or my child, so desperately needs."

People without insurance are robbed of their dignity. There is nothing more humiliating than for a person to go to a clinic or doctor's office saying "I need to see you but I can only pay you $20; Please see my wife who has been in pain for weeks; I'll pay you next week." Recently on a TV program I heard a man say "my six year old daughter has cancer, and my insurance only pays for part of the treatment. With a roofer's salary, what can I do?"

And we are not only talking about the uninsured, we are also talking about the middle class. Higher premiums, deductibles and co-payments are encouraging people to delay seeking health care; when they finally do get care they are often so ill that the costs can be astronomical. The second leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is unpaid medical bills. The Keiser Family Foundation reported that the average worker's share of the premium, when the employer pays for a part of the cost, grew 9%. That means the average worker pays close to $3,000 from his or her own pocket.

And fewer businesses are offering coverage. "USA Today" describes it this way:

Job-based health insurance - the central pillar of America's health insurance system - is beginning to crumble. Just 60 percent of businesses offered health insurance in 2005. Rising costs have forced many [of them] stop offering coverage, and some employees who can no longer afford insurance...go without.

Meanwhile, the Corporate Research Group reported that "in 2004, managed care profits increased 33%." And the way to increase profits is by limiting care, raising prices and making the insured pay more; and pharmaceutical corporations also made billions from the misfortunes of others.

I've seen, for example, a man lose his leg because he couldn't afford antibiotics to treat his foot ulcer, and small children get inadequate care because their parents were not insured. A couple of years ago I attended the funeral of a 14-year old girl in the Bronx, NY, who died when her HMO refused to do an inexpensive blood test which would have shown that what she was suffering from was not the flu, as she was told but a perforated pancreas.

The reason this happened was because her mother had the temerity to take her daughter to the emergency room without calling the HMO first. The pain of her family was REAL, not 'anecdotal', as the insurance companies like to say. Martin Luther King Jr. said so powerfully: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane."

It's inhuman that as we hear pharmaceutical giants singing the praises of the current fake Medicare Prescription Plan, we have millions of our senior citizens with limited incomes still paying for expensive medications. The average Medicare member uses 19 prescriptions a year with an average out-of-pocket cost of $700 per year. And since the implementation of Medicare Part D, the prices of the most popular drugs have risen 10% and continue climbing. If Medicare were allowed to negotiate the cost of those drugs, they could go down dramatically but the current administration made such negotiations illegal, thereby benefiting Big Pharma instead of needy patients.

But according to the "2004 Economic Report of the President" U.S. health care is doing just fine. Never mind the huge expense (1.9 trillion), the low life expectancy (17th), the high infant mortality (28th): it's a market-based system, so it must be good.

For healthcare to be based on the idea that it's all right to make money from the illnesses of people is inhumane. In the "National Ethics Report" of July, 1968, the philosopher Eli Siegel, founder of the education Aesthetic Realism, explained the root cause of the crisis we are in today when he stated that profit-driven health care is unethical because it is "based on contempt for people." He added: "The idea of people worried about their health and worried about money is barbarous. It's ego corruption." This makes clear that this system can never work, because once you are after profit you can't be too interested in what people deserve, what they feel; to do so will limit your ability to make money from them.

A system in which patients are seen in terms of money and not what they feel encourages ill will in everyone working in it. As an Hispanic doctor, I was hoping to make an impact in my community and decided to work in some in the poorest areas in New York City. But I also wanted to make lots of money, own several homes and have an office on Park Avenue. What I saw was that my comfort went against justice for other people, and I made the mistake of seeing a patient in terms of an illness or an insurance card, and not a full, feeling human being.

I remember the turmoil I felt the first time I had to charge a woman with no health insurance. After treating her for a foot infection, she asked "How much?" Inside I went from feeling "She shouldn't have to pay a penny!" to justifying myself by thinking "I studied hard, and have many loans; beside someone else may charge her more." I had no clue how to make sense of these conflicting feelings, and my solution for easing the nervousness I felt was by becoming cold and distant to the people I had hoped to benefit.

Thank God that through my study of Aesthetic Realism I began to ask the question Siegel said is central in ethics: What does a person deserve by being a person? ¿Qué se merece una persona por ser una persona? The honest answering of this question, I have seen from my own life, is the means to see a person with REAL feeling; as real as my own. And when we see a person this way, wanting to be useful will be the driving force in our hearts, not profiting from their illness.

I believe we have reached a point in history where we have to make this not a political or economic issue; but an ethical issue. As a country, what are we willing to do for our fellow human beings in need? What do all people deserve? They deserve good housing, food, good education; they deserve jobs, and yes they deserve national health insurance, where everyone is covered equally. If Congress wants to solve this crisis, it should enact the "U.S. National Health Insurance Act": which is the extension of an expanded and improved Medicare, that truly American--truly red, white and blue program--to every person in this nation.

Call Healthcare-Now at 212- 475-8350 or 800-453-1305 for more information. We will assist you in organizing your community for passage of HR 676. Together we have the power to prevail. Please go to for a full description and analysis of HR 676 and suggestions on how you can help us to make HR 676 the law of the land.

Dr. Jaime R. Torres is founder and national coordinator of Latinos for National Health Insurance, and an Associate at the non-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York. He has spoken on the need of national health insurance at the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Yale University Medical School, the Raul Yzaguirre Policy Institute and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Click here to contact Dr. Torres and Healthcare-NOW.

Click here to read any of the articles in this special BC series on Single-Payer Healthcare.


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January 25, 2007
Issue 214

is published every Thursday.

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