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John McCain: poster boy for socialized medicine?

Citizen Staff Writer

Unbelievable. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and I share something in common. We don’t understand the mind-set of the Washington, D.C., insiders.

She doesn’t understand how Sen. Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s pick for vice president, could have voted for the war but now say he didn’t support it.

I don’t understand how Palin’s running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, can rail against socialized medicine while benefiting from it.

Last week, the Republican candidate for president had an interesting exchange with The Des Moines Register’s editorial board on the topic of health insurance.

A board member asked whether McCain has been covered his entire adult life by a taxpayer-financed health care plan – by virtue of being a veteran, a member of Congress and, now, a senior citizen.

McCain rambled a bit about not being an astronaut but still understanding the challenges of space. Huh?

Then he said he believes in the free market and allowing families to make the best choices for themselves, while Obama wants to create a huge health-care bureaucracy for America (McCain’s health care plan would provide tax credits to help people buy insurance. Obama would expand government-provided health care and require most employers to provide health insurance).

Finally, McCain returned to the question, throwing down the “I was a prisoner of war” card.

“The answer is that most of my life in serving my country, I have had health care. I did go a period of time when the health care wasn’t very good,” he added, a reference to his five-and-a-half years in the Hanoi Hilton.

With a smile and wink, he quickly closed the door on the more substantive question: Why do conservatives like him insist that socialized medicine can’t work, even when they know from personal experience that it does work?

Under the broad definition of the phrase, socialized medicine is any publicly funded health-care program. That would include the U.S. military’s TRICARE program, Medicare for seniors, Medicaid for the poor (in our state, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (in our state, called KidsCare).

Tens of millions of Americans receive health care through these successful programs. Yet McCain and other free-market proponents insist that government isn’t the answer to the health-care crisis.

Well, for many Americans, the free market hasn’t provided the solution. Nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured, 80 percent of them belonging to working families.

A 2005 Harvard University study found that half the country’s personal bankruptcies were caused by illness and medical bills. The authors said all but the wealthiest Americans were just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.

Having a good education, a decent job and private health insurance offered no guarantee that a person wouldn’t be financially wiped out by illness.

Private health insurance, the researchers said, was like “an umbrella that melted away in the rain.”

Insured families were buried in unaffordable co-payments, deductibles and bills for uncovered items. And many of those with private health insurance at the beginning of their illnesses lost it when they became too sick to work.

As a nation, do we really believe that people should lose everything they’ve worked for their whole lives because they or a family member have the misfortune to become ill or suffer a disabling injury?

Do we believe some Americans are less deserving of health care than others?

Last month, the Tucson Citizen editorial board interviewed Al Melvin, the ├╝ber conservative candidate for the District 26 state Senate seat. After he said he could see “socialized medicine rearing its ugly head,” I asked him about his health-care coverage. He’s covered by TRICARE because of his service in the Merchant Marine.

Isn’t that socialized medicine? I asked.

No, he said, “I earned it.”

Last fall, President Bush vetoed an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers the children of working-class families across America.

It’s too costly, he said, even though the bill for the program for five years was about the expense of six months in Iraq.

I didn’t and still don’t understand how taxpayers can afford to wage an unpopular war, at a projected total cost of $3 trillion, but we can’t afford health care for our children.

Today, just days after Congress passed the huge bailout bill, with the support of both McCain and Obama, I wonder how we can justify spending $700 billion to rescue the fat cats of Wall Street while refusing to help out the uninsured of Main Street.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.



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