Frank Yuse, a 77-year-old retired schoolteacher, is sitting in The Inlander offices discussing his recent attempts to transform his award-winning health care plan -- which would lower the cost of care and cover the nation's 45 million uninsured -- into a congressional bill. It's no small miracle that he's here. This morning, Tuesday, Nov. 30, citizens of Spokane woke up to the season's first freezing snowfall; it took some people on the South Hill more than an hour to get downtown. Yuse is barely able to get around even on a good day - he had an aneurysm in 1998, which led to multiple surgeries, a stroke and partial paralysis (including a bad hip). But that's not all: today is Yuse's 47th wedding anniversary and tomorrow at 6 am, the first day of cold December, he's expected at Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he will undergo an angioplasty, the best possible solution for his four blocked heart arteries. Open-heart surgery wasn't an option, as Yuse says simply, "I told the doctor I wouldn't make it through that."
Yuse's determination to make some changes in the health care system he's navigating becomes even more evident as he tells his story.
"I feel personally that my mission in life, besides helping my wife survive, is trying to convince the U.S. [lawmakers] they've got to come up with a solution, whether it's mine, or someone else's. I think it's kept me going. I should have died six years ago."
Yuse has not only lived a lot longer than he expected, but he's been writing a proposal that could become a congressional bill, should one of the lawmakers who've reviewed it decided to become its sponsor.
Last year, Yuse learned about a contest to see who could come up with the best plan to cover America's millions of uninsured and still lower the cost of health care. Though in poor health, and between trips to the hospital, Yuse got to work.
The contest was part of CodeBlueNow!, a non-partisan nonprofit that advocates solutions to the nation's health care crisis. Kathleen O'Connor, a health care consultant and journalist from the Seattle area, came up with the idea for the contest after becoming weary of discussions about the health care system that seemed stagnated in cycles of blame and complaint. She offered $10,000 of her own money to the contest winner. The guidelines were strict: The proposal had to include funding strategies and details on how to make the transition from the current system into the proposed one. A panel of judges - all experts in the field - would review the proposals.
Out of 109 entries, Yuse took third place and was invited to present his proposal, called simply, "Medicare for All," at a forum in Portland in October 2003. Part of being one of the three winners meant Yuse's plan was sent to U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Then the first-place entrant was disqualified, so Yuse moved into second. The new first-place winner is a British professor teaching college in Florida. Yet Yuse refused the monetary award. He doesn't want a cash prize, he says -- he wants results.
Though the contest is over, and even though the winning proposals are being reviewed by lawmakers and promoted by advocates of health care reform, Yuse says he won't rest until he sees something happen. He's sent additional copies of his proposed bill to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass), as well as Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA). Yuse was the health care advisor on Don Barbieri's campaign and says now that Cathy McMorris has won, he's not sure he can use his own district's rep. "I don't know if I'll get much of an audience with [McMorris]," he says.
Right to Health
"Ninety percent [of the people] who have [my type of] aneurysm die," Yuse says. "I had 12 transfusions and was in a coma for four weeks. Then I was in intensive care another month and three [additional] weeks in a nursing home. Anyhow, I'm a good example -- what if I didn't have Medicare?" Yuse lets the question linger, and then explains that the second-most common reason for filing personal bankruptcy is medical debt. "People can't afford catastrophic illnesses. You say, 'tough luck, tough love,' but we are a society and we have to help one another, either selflessly or selfishly. If I'd not had insurance someone else would've still had to pick up the tab. We pay anyway."
Yuse's proposal suggests that 80 percent of everyone's health care costs be covered under Medicare. Medicaid would be folded in Medicare. The remaining 20 percent could either be paid out of pocket or insured privately.
Yuse says his plan has gotten attention because it's not another proposal to socialize medicine or completely de- privatize the health care system. "You have to give some of the market to free enterprise," he agrees, adding that Americans are too distrustful of the government to let it control the entire system. But then again, Americans don't exactly trust private corporations to have all the control, either.
Employers would no longer have the burden of insuring their employees, bringing costs down and eliminating one of the biggest reasons for outsourcing.
"You don't try to start from scratch -- you take what's available and expand from it," Yuse says, adding that even his own proposal is an expansion on some ideas and suggestions multiple health care experts have already written about. "For 38 years, Medicare has been one of the flagships of the American experience. It's a great safety net, but it doesn't cover everything. It's not supposed to."
As Yuse gets up to leave, wondering aloud where he'll take his wife for their anniversary dinner, he adds again that he hopes to make it out of the hospital the following morning.
"I just got out last week for chest pain," he says, exasperated. "There's a lot of work to do!"
Frank Yuse is expected to make a full recovery from his angioplasty. To view a complete version of Yuse's proposal, "Medicare for All," go to www.codebluenow.com.