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U.S. needs a national health care system now

The American public is being led down the yellow brick road into the land of Oz pertaining to health care delivery in the United States. I have been practicing family medicine for 16 years, in the St. Petersburg area for the last seven years. In that time I have seen some major changes in health care delivery. In many instances these changes help to increase longevity of the latest in medical technology. Unfortunately in the same time I have seen great changes in those who receive the benefit of modern day medicine. These changes are not so encouraging.

This country needs a system of national health insurance and it needs it now. The federal government is doing it half-heartedly for our senior citizens in the form of Medicare. Medicare, dollar for dollar, is still the finest health insurance that a person can buy. Medicare patients seek medical care from the physician and hospital of their choice.

This is a great step forward from HMOs that exist today because HMOs take away the basic freedom of choice that Americans have given their lives to preserve for more than 200 years. With health maintenance organizations a patient must go to their doctors and their approved hospitals. Services provided outside of the selected physicians and hospitals are grounds for denial of payment.

I believe that the countries of Eastern Europe have recently undergone a series of revolutions to achieve the right of freedom of choice. This is the same right that health maintenance organizations take away from the patient today. Insurance companies, those providing health insurance, should be 100 percent in support of a national health insurance program. These are the insurance companies that are constantly raising rates because they are telling the American public that they are losing money by selling health insurance.

If these companies are losing money, how come they still do not endorse a federally backed system of national health insurance? I have wrestled with that question for the past few years. I still do not have an answer. The answer in my mind is that these companies are really not losing the money that you and I have been led to believe.

The insurance companies are feeding us a pack of misinformation, which we are not challenging and which we are accepting. They probably are making millions and millions of dollars and that is why they do not want to see the federal government come in and provide health care for all Americans. This would cost them a lot of money.

I urge everyone reading this to challenge the information being fed to us by large insurance companies. I ask that you ask them how they can continue to not endorse national health insurance when they are losing so much money?

I urge all Americans to make their elected officials responsible to their word. About six years ago I was medical director of IMC Gold Plus, the federally approved health maintenance organization for Medicare aged people only. The HMO was undergoing the government's General Accounting Office investigation, headed up by Florida's Larry Smith.

I contacted Rep. Smith's Washington office and spoke to an aide about his investigation. I wrote him a return receipt letter stating that I certainly felt that health care being delivered by that organization was less than optimal for the people receiving it. I never received a response to either my phone call or to my letter. I wrote the same letter to Sen. Edward Kennedy. This also was sent return receipt requested because he puts himself forth as a champion of health care delivery in America. Once again I never received a response.

I see patients every week who belong to health maintenance organizations and who pay my office fees out of their own pockets because they cannot afford to wait weeks to see a physician. This is especially true when the patient has other medical conditions that necessitate constant medication. It is unfortunate that we are bombarded every day with television commercials that have well respected Hollywood celebrities telling us the benefits of belonging to health maintenance organizations. I wish to ask Burt Lancaster what type of insurance he carries.

I say to the American public that health care in America is on the brink of disaster for the majority of Americans who need it most.

Health care delivery is being destroyed not by ever-increasing physician fees but by the ever-increasing costs.

The only way to see that your voice is heard in Congress is to write, call and keep letting your voices be heard by our elected officials. Make your elected officials accountable for the wishes of the people that put them in office.

If the wishes of the American people are for national health insurance, and this national health insurance is not achieved, then perhaps other elected officials should be granted the opportunity to work in the hollowed halls of Congress. Eastern Europe has shown America something that we have forgotten in the past 214 years: The voice of the people will be heard if the voice of the people is raised loud enough.

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