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Wednesday, 24 October 2007 00:00

A health care fix is needed

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Our story last week about a fund that helps women pay for breast cancer testing and treatment pointed out cracks in the health care system. It’s not surprising that this situation exists, and while we hope the funding issues for this cancer program are solved, we hope — more importantly — that the health care debate that takes place every presidential election cycle will gain some traction this time.

The Breast and Cervical Cancer Care Program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and pays for free mammograms for women older than 50 who don’t qualify for Medicare and don’t have private health insurance. It also helps women younger than 50 who may not — for various reasons — have health insurance. The program is administered locally through county health departments.

“This program saved my life,” said Rhonda Gaddis, a woman we interviewed for our story.

Fortunately, Gaddis is one of the lucky ones. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women, and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for women after lung cancer. In 2006 about 41,000 women died of breast cancer in the United States.

But there is a problem. It seems that in Haywood County, not enough women are taking advantage of the screenings and follow-up care. If too few women take advantage of the free breast cancer screening, the implication is that the county is doing OK in treating breast cancer and money for the program will be cut.

A group billing itself the Power of Pink is working to raise money for screenings, an effort one of its leaders describes as a community taking care of its own people. They want to use the money they raise to pay for mammograms for women in their 40s. If some form of cancer is detected, then the BCCCP program would be there to pick up the costs of the follow-up care.

 

The larger problem

The work by the Haywood County group is honorable, but it also is a stark reminder of some fundamental shortcomings of the U.S. health care system. Too many people are receiving inadequate health care merely because they can’t afford insurance or health care.

That’s why we believe a combination of the plans supported by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards could lead to a better health care system. Both candidates would make it a law that every person have health insurance, similar to the requirement that drivers in every state must have automobile insurance.

Clinton wants every citizen to be able to choose from the same menu of options available to members of Congress. There is certainly a populist appeal to that notion. Edwards and Clinton both propose tax credits for small companies so they can help their employees get coverage. Edwards goes a step further with a plan to create “health care markets” regionally that are supposed to help contain costs through market-driven competition, both for insurance and health care procedures.

Until Congress and the president get serious and enact fundamental changes in our health care system, people will continue to delay getting care — and preventive diagnoses — because the costs are too high. The current situation is morally suspect while at the same time putting too heavy a burden on U.S. businesses. It’s got to change.

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