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July 18, 2009
Patient Flees

I've given a lot of thought to the health care “debate” lately. Mostly with alarm and resignation. Unlike in every other wealthy industrialized country in the world, health care here in the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. There's only one reason for that: money. As in, there's a lot of money made off our backs, and the health "care" industry is hell-bent on keeping it that way. You and I, to say nothing of employers everywhere, are getting fleeced. But, now, we might just have a toehold to do something about it.

Our president has made a modest proposal – far too modest – that we citizens ought to have the choice of a public health insurance plan. Republican senators in particular, but by no means only, are dead-set against even this modest reform, because it might infringe upon the stunning profits of their benefactors and donors, and not because, as their RNC talking points memo has instructed them to repeat, such a plan will insert "a bureaucrat" between your doctor and you.

Speaking of which, I hardly ever see a doctor, for any reason, because to do so adds only insult to the injury of the $1,000+ I pay monthly for the privilege of carrying private “health insurance” for my family. That $1,000+ is just the price of admission for me to not get sick or injured. If I actually visit a doctor, I pay for it out of my pocket, until I use up an insane annual deductible of some $4,000. This is to insure my provider from the possibility of my ever cutting into their profits. I could get a better return on my investment in a casino.

So, yes, there is someone between my doctor and me already, and he isn't a bureaucrat, he's a tycoon. And, I am, perversely, counted among the lucky to be doing business with him at all.

Now, let's consider for a moment how it works for a Canadian citizen – any Canadian citizen. You’ve been to Toronto, right? It’s practically an American city, except it’s cleaner and safer, with a better selection of beer and candy. Oh, and no one is uninsured.

How It Works in Canada

1) Need a doctor?
2) Make an appointment to see a doctor. (Any doctor. Your pick.)
3) See the doctor.
4) Get treated.
5) No bill.
6) Repeat as necessary.

That’s it. It’s called the single-payer model. There’s no bureaucrat – or anyone else – standing between you and your doctor. And, there’s no tycoon getting rich(er) at the expense of your health. And, no, you don’t have to wait longer for your doctor appointment, or procedure, then I do here in the States. (Ever try to book a dermatologist in Minneapolis? Plan ahead. Way ahead.)

Here are the other key facts: Canadians are healthier than we are. And, they see their doctors more than we see ours. Yet, per capita health care spending in Canada is almost half that of the USA.

Why? Follow the money. Here in the States, we have the added costs of advertising by providers, the added costs of health care industry profits, and the added costs of lobbying and political contributions. Our health care is a product, like soda pop, or detergent, or munitions. Which brings us back to those Senators I mentioned before. Like Nascar drivers, they really ought to wear suits with their sponsors’ logos emblazoned upon them.

Who pays all these extra costs? Who enriches the tycoons? I do. You do. We all do… except for the 47 million uninsured who can’t afford to pay for anything, and who spend an inordinate amount of time in our emergency rooms. It’s like we’re a banana republic. Imagine if we had 47 million kids out on the streets because our clown Senators opposed funding public schools.

Now, Kathleen Sebelius, our Secretary of Health and Human Services, says that a single-payer option is not even on the table:

“The president feels strongly, as I do, that dismantling private health coverage for the 180 million Americans that have it… is really the bad, you know, is a bad direction to go." So, rest assured, we can all forget about that fantasy. What, then, about the president's proposal for a public health insurance plan to compete with all the private plans?

"The whole idea of the public option has been difficult, in part, because some of the opposition has described it as a potential for a, you know, draconian scenario that was never part of the discussion in the first place. Disabusing people of what is not going to happen is often difficult, because there's no tangible way to do that."

That’s right, what we have here, in the face of Republican talking points, is a failure to communicate – to sell – even this modest plan, this deeply flawed plan that will cost a cool $1 trillion to implement (rather than save us all money any time soon). But, this plan remains preferable to the catastrophe we live with now.

So, my question: Shouldn’t we advertising professionals – self-employed or otherwise – be banding together now? To create a pervasive and compelling campaign that serves our most urgent public interest? Unlike our HHS Secretary, I believe that describing, framing and ‘selling’ a public health insurance plan or, better yet, a single-payer plan, is achievable. It has to be. And, it’s a challenge – a duty, even – that we are uniquely equipped to meet.

Yes, there are various organizations fighting this good fight right now. But, no communications effort that I’m aware of has seized public consciousness the way, say, the social upheavals in Iran have. And, that’s what we need to make a difference. Social media is free, right? Isn’t it critical that we rise to the occasion, right now, before Congress screws it up and the Administration capitulates?

Who wants to win next year’s Cannes Grand Prix? What’s our legacy going to be? Who’s with me?

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Jack Steinmann is a freelance integrated content producer based in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He made his first film at the age of 12. This year the Cannes jury awarded a Gold Lion to the Chambers Hotel “Video Art Piece” Jack produced for Barrie D’Rozario Murphy. He's overdue to see his doctor.

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