There are few better case studies of why everyone needs access to healthcare than the H1N1 (formerly known as swine flu) outbreak in the U.S. that started in my congressional district in Queens. If you are feeling sick, have body aches, a fever and don’t have health insurance, you’re going to think twice, probably think three times, maybe four times, about going to see a doctor. Anyone without health insurance who can’t afford to dig into his or her pocket to pay for doctor’s visit for something even as basic as the flu, is a problem that can make all of us sick.
When someone with the flu decides not to go to the doctor, two pillars of our public health system are breaking down. First, our surveillance system—and fortunately New York City is home to one of the best in the country—can’t get an accurate assessment of potential outbreaks. Second, an untreated and unidentified person with the flu is walking around and infecting more people with a very mobile virus! The best medicine by far for H1N1 is to make sure that everyone can see a doctor. And how do we do that? We expand Medicare to include everyone.
When we bring the healthcare reform bill to be voted on in Congress, I will be offering an alternative to the 1,000-page bill. My alternative would create a single-payer system, which basically expands Medicare to cover everyone. This would mean that you could still see your family doctor, still go to the same hospital, still get all the same services, but the insurance companies would no longer make an enormous profit on administering, advertising, and most importantly, denying benefits to you and your loved ones.
“Go see your doctor” seems like simple enough advice, but for the uninsured, it’s advice that can’t be easily followed. H1N1 reminds us that we need healthcare for everyone. Our health depends on it.