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May 8, 2008

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MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
PO Box 908
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By Zach Mitcham

‘Sick Around the World’
Frontline correspondent T.R. Reid recently traveled to five countries to examine their health care systems and compare them to ours. It seems like a simple journalistic assignment that any responsible national news outlet would jump on. Who has a better health care system and how can we learn from them?
But flip through the channels and you’ll see that most TV news outlets are still too hung up on an angry, ego-driven preacher and how one of his congregants is somehow responsible for his troublesome talk.
Whatever. The jabbering will go on. But I have bills to pay. And they’re getting much bigger. Our health care system is fundamentally flawed. Millions are uninsured and millions more middle class citizens may be priced out of coverage as insurance premiums and medical costs skyrocket. It’s truly scary. It seems that even a decent job and a commitment to hard work aren’t enough to protect many from the prospect of medical bankruptcy should they get that awful diagnosis from the doctor or fall in some truly bad way. Out of a job, out of luck.
At least the PBS series Frontline offers a refreshing alternative to the talking head nonsense that poses as actual news. Instead of having a right-leaning and left-leaning pundit bark at each other, the standard format of television “news” shows today, they sent a reporter around the world to look at other nations and see what they’re doing to keep people from facing financial ruin due to their health.
I’ll only address some of it here, but you can find more information on the program by T.R. Reid called “Sick Around the World,” including a transcript at
Reid, who is working on a book about health care around the globe, visited Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland. While an estimated 700,000 people go broke each year in this country due to medical bills, no one in the countries he visited is doomed to that fate, thanks to the systems in place.
Watching that documentary was encouraging. Perhaps the health care system in this country can be turned around. At least it’s been done elsewhere.
“Some people say it’s politically impossible to fix our health care system,” said Reid. “And, in fact, the last time we tried it in 1994, the result was disastrous failure. But that same year in Switzerland, a country famous for huge insurance companies and drug companies, they did take on health care reform and changed the system. Today they have universal coverage with high quality.”
The Swiss reform passed by a narrow margin in a referendum. It angered conservatives. It outraged insurance and drug companies. It required that everybody buy insurance. And, in return, it promised a comprehensive package of medical care for all.
“After that, insurance companies could not cherry pick the young and healthy to avoid the old and the sick,” said Reid. “And they were not allowed to make a profit on basic care, although they could profit from supplemental policies.”
Reid noted that Swiss health insurance companies now have an average administrative cost of five percent, compared to roughly 22 percent among American insurance companies.
It’s noteworthy that Americans accept the universal right to an education and the universal right to legal protection in the event that you’re accused of a crime. However, we don’t accept that everyone has a right to health care. Some like to point out the the drug-using, irresponsible folks as reason enough to avoid universal coverage. However, in that same dismissive wave of the hand they ignore the tragedies of hard-working folks hit with horrible afflictions, the family with a child suffering from leukemia.
“It is a profound need for people to be sure that if they are struck by destiny, by a stroke of destiny, they can have a good health care system,” said Swiss President Pascal Couchepin, who was originally unenthusiastic about his country’s reform but is a supporter today.
Of course, somebody is going to get hurt financially if we reform health care and provide universal coverage. Doctors, drug companies and insurance companies may find less in their pockets. But doing nothing will leave more and more people crippled financially, including an increasing number of middle class folks who aim to be fiscally responsible.
As one Taiwanese doctor who helped reform his nation’s health care system pointed out in the documentary, America has a health care “market,” not a “system.”
We need a system.
And we need to avoid all the election-year distractions that take our eyes off the things that really need our focus: health care reform, the war, the economy.
I feel ashamed for those national “news” organizations who let us down with that incessant, opinionated chatter, instead of civic-minded journalism that addresses matters of real consequence to us all. We desperately need better these days.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

By Frank Gillispie

Reducing demand is way to reduce oil price
While standing at the cooler noting that the cost of eggs had once again gone up, I turned to a fellow shopper and said, “I think we ought to buy our own chickens.” He answered, “You could not afford the corn to feed them.” He is right.
It was not long ago that supermarkets were using eggs as a promotion. When they were on sale, you could buy a dozen large eggs for 49 cents. Today, you cannot find a dozen large eggs for less than a dollar forty nine! The price of milk and bread have climbed a similar amount. All this is because of the rapid increase in the price of oil.
There are other problems driven by oil prices, of course. Since we purchase up to 60 percent of our oil in the international market, we are sending billions of dollars to nations and organizations that do not like us. So much of our national debt is now being financed by these oil rich groups that it puts our national security in great jeopardy.
Then there is the damage these prices are doing to our economy. Air lines are having serious problems due to the cost of jet fuel. It is costing people far too much money to travel to and from work. Heating and cooling our homes and businesses is eating away at our family income. And, of course, it is driving up the cost of eggs.
The oil crisis affects our food two ways. First, far too many cereal grains are being diverted to the production of ethanol. Corn, wheat and soy that would normally be used to feed dairy cattle and chickens winds up at ethanol plants, even though the efficiency of these plants is questionable. The simple rule of supply and demand thus forces the price of these basic food items out the roof. Then the price of diesel oil for the trucks that haul the eggs, milk, bread and other food items is now well over four dollars a gallon.
Well over 30 trucks a week make deliveries to the big Ingles store in Madison County. Almost all of them run on diesel fuel. The cost of the fuel for these big trucks is passed on to the customers in the price of our food. But the trip bringing food to the store is only the last step. Big trucks haul the food from the farms to the producers then to the distribution centers and finally to the store. We then burn gasoline in our cars going to and from the store.
Now, we are bombarded by political candidates from all sides promising to do something about the price of oil. They burn gallons of fuel dashing from state to state proclaiming their concern. The truth is that government can do nothing about oil prices. Those prices are determined by the economic law of supply and demand. As long as the demand for oil exceeds the supply, prices will keep going up. Only when the cost goes so high that we quit using so much oil will the price stabilize.
That gives us two choices. Keep paying the high prices or reduce our demand for oil. We have known how to do that for many years now. The rules are simple. Drive fewer miles by carpooling, combining trips so that you do more while driving fewer miles. Drive your smaller car when possible. Keep your car well maintained. Pump up the tires. Keep your speed down. We know all these rules, but we simply ignore them and go our happy way with our big heavy vehicles with slack tires driving mile after unnecessary mile at high speeds.
If we want to reduce the price of oil, it is up to us to reduce the demand. The worst thing we can do is sit around waiting for government to do something about it.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is His website can be accessed at


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