House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI) and other members of Congress held a briefing and press conference yesterday on Capitol Hill, highlighting the failures of the for-profit health care system and the difficulties faced by millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans. Among the participants was Michael Moore, whose new film, Sicko, focuses on the need for national health care reform.
Some 47 million Americans have no health insurance coverage. Even for those who do have coverage, and for those who benefit from the $2 trillion spent yearly on the existing national health care system, thousands die yearly from lack of access to health care. Financially, the health care system can ruin some individuals; according to the National Nurses Organizing Committee, medical bills are the single largest cause of both bankruptcy and homelessness. Emphasizing the need for drastic reform, Moore described healthcare as the “biggest sicko in this country.”
Moore chastised exploitative insurance companies and HMOs seeking to ‘line their pockets’ rather than save lives, arguing that ‘there should be no profit in curing disease.”
Moore’s film presented a strong platform for the introduction of new healthcare legislation, led by Rep. Conyers. The legislation, called the US National Health Insurance Act, or HR 676, would involve moving to a single-payer system, in which health care would remain private but the delivery would become public with insurance plans only covering non-necessary expenses. Supporters of such a move argue that, by converting health care to a non-profit system, administrative costs could be significantly cut (up to $350 billion) and thousands of lives would be saved.
Seventy-four members of the House already support Rep. Conyers’ plan, including Representatives Pete Stark (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Black Caucus Chair Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI), and Democrat presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings reminded the room that a child died “15 miles from here because he couldn’t get $40 of tooth care,” and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) invoked civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, saying she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Many expect the legislation to face resistance from the Bush administration and members of Congress who are influenced by insurance companies’ lobbying arms. Moore pointed out that, for every politician on Capitol Hill, there are four lobbyists seeking to oppose health care reform.