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Durango rally calls for guaranteed health care

Doctor says current system is especially tough for middle class

About 100 people gathered around in Buckley Park on Tuesday to mark the fifth anniversary of a United Nations resolution calling for countries to provide guaranteed access to health care for all and to support a petition drive calling for a Medicare-for-all system in the U.S.

In speeches, chants and song, ralliers called for better health care access – pointing out the current profit-based system is especially problematic for the middle class, which is increasingly priced out of the health insurance market or must settle for inadequate insurance providing substandard care.

Dr. Kirsten Searfus, a family practitioner in Durango, said, “People at the top, they can afford health care. People at the bottom can get assistance from the government, but people in between have to decide about costs. Do they forgo a test? Do they forgo a treatment. They have to make a lot of hard choices.”

Health care increasingly drives many other decisions in life, such as a person’s choice to live in a rural area versus an urban area, with Searfus saying people who choose to live in rural areas like Southwest Colorado are increasingly choosing to accept living in an area with limited health insurance options.

Moving away from a for-profit system, Searfus said, would be the most efficient system to provide good health care to all, no matter if they lived in Denver or Durango.

“The fundamental problem is: We have a for-profit system. As long as we have that, we have problems,” she said. “How do you change that? You change that by voting.”

The health care system is so complex and has so many profit centers now, Searfus said, converting to a Medicare-for-all type system that eliminates the need for profits could provide good coverage for everyone while avoiding quality and service issues that typically are pointed to with current government-run operations like the U.S. Postal Service.

“Frankly, there’s not a lot of money to be made in getting something from place A to place B,” she said. Health care is different from transporting mail and packages, she said. Health care has so many areas where large profits are made that she couldn’t foresee a Medicare-for-all system falling prey to the same service and financial issues that plague government-run operations such as the U.S. Postal Service.

Dr. Lauri Costello, a Durango family practitioner, said she was in charge of making the medical decisions for her patients until the 1990s, when health maintenance organizations came to prominence and started setting limits on costly treatments and drugs that doctors could prescribe.

“With Medicare for all, the physician is back in charge, and the government pays the bills,” Costello said. “The rest of the developed world committed to universal health care years ago.”

Guinn Unger, an organizer of the rally and co-chairman of the Health Care and Senior Issues Committee for Indivisible Durango, said Durango’s rally was one of several in Colorado, including rallies in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Boulder, and petitions that called for Medicare for all would be forwarded to Denver to pressure for change in the health care system.

Werner Heiber, who immigrated from Switzerland decades ago and has lived in Durango for 17 years, said he was surprised the United States did not have a form of government-assured health coverage for its citizens when he arrived.

“I was born over 70 years ago, and we already had universal health care. It was just assumed,” he said.

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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