After working as a healthcare consultant and journalist for more than 20 years, Kathleen O'Conner got tired of hearing about the uninsured and underinsured; she grew weary of discussions about the healthcare system, which often seem stagnated in cycles of blame and complaint.
"Without a goal, healthcare will remain a mess," O'Conner says, "and we've never had a goal. So I decided to tell someone to put their money where their mouth is and I invited the American public to participate [in a contest.]"
O'Connell, based in the Seattle area, offered $10,000 of her own money to whomever could write the best proposal for a healthcare system that everyone could have access to. She drew up strict guidelines, demanding the proposal include funding strategies and details on how to transition the current system into the proposed one. O'Connell organized judges and established a non-partisan, Web-based nonprofit called Code Blue Now. Her goal is to galvanize a massive public movement that will force government to make major overhauls in healthcare policy.
"We're creating an action plan, and we're going to get that out the door as soon as we can," O'Conner says. "We've never talked about healthcare other than [in terms of] cost and access. [Code Blue Now] will reframe that so it has value and meaning to people."
O'Conner cites the overwhelming public support for the Do Not Call Registry as proof that people can make government act. After more than 50 million Americans signed up, it only took Congress one day to pass a policy ensuring the legality of the Do Not Call Registry.
"It wasn't easy," O'Connell says of her contest. "But what we received was beyond my wildest dreams. Ed Howard, who was head of the Alliance for Healthcare Reform, said that in 25 years of working for healthcare reform, he's never seen such creative, fresh ideas."
O'Conner received 109 proposals from people worldwide. On October 24-25, 10 finalists presented and defended their papers at a forum in Portland. One of those finalists was Frank Yuse, a retired teacher from Spokane.
"My big argument is that society has to have healthcare for everyone. There has to be control of prices, and preventative care needs to be a huge part [of the healthcare system]," says Yuse.
Out of those 109 entries, Yuse won third place; his proposal will be passed along to Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell for congressional consideration.
Yuse defends the claim that healthcare is a human right, defined clearly in the Declaration of Independence, when it reads, "We hold these... inalienable rights... of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
"One cannot have life if healthcare is lacking. One cannot be free of fear of bankruptcy if going to the hospital uses up all one's savings and income. And there is little happiness when one is in terrible pain," Yuse's proposal reads. "Isn't it about time our nation -- the richest in all of history -- catches up with Germany, Canada, South Africa, Cuba, even little Costa Rica?"
Yuse's proposal, "Medicare for All," suggests that 80 percent of everyone's healthcare costs be covered under Medicare. Medicaid would be folded into Medicare. The remaining 20 percent of healthcare costs could either be paid out of pocket or insured privately. Yuse says including private industry in the healthcare system keeps the healthcare system competitive and intrinsically American.
As a current board member of Health Care for All, a citizen's action committee in Washington state, Yuse says there needs to be a compromise between the profit-driven system and those who want socialized medicine. "Don't fight private industry completely -- let them have some part in this," he argues.
Yuse's proposal also calls for a "Do Not Touch" policy that would prevent politicians from taking money from Social Security and healthcare to balance the budget.
"What's happening now is that $60 billion to $70 billion a year is robbed from Social Security and healthcare to balance the budget," Yuse explains. "They put an IOU in the bank, and we have over a trillion of those now."
The proposal would also establish a board of healthcare providers and experts to determine the rates of care for providers. Yuse estimates that savings and revenues would increase in three to five years under his plan.
O'Conner says that Yuse's proposal, along with those of the other top contestants, will be blended and transformed into an action plan. She believes that politicians will need to listen.
"The American public is vastly smarter than they are getting credit for," O'Conner says, "and they care about this issue. People want a voice on this."
To learn more about Code Blue Now or to read other contestants' healthcare proposals, visit www.codebluenow.org.
Publication date: 11/06/03