The Right to Human Healthcare

root - Posted on 21 December 2009

The 2009 National Health Care for the Homeless conference

by Valerie Schwartz/PNN poverty and disability scholar

In the end of June I had the pleasure of attending the four day, June 24-27, 2009 National Health Care for the Homeless in Washington D.C. It was sponsored by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and jointly sponsored by the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. As I registered I was amazed by how many people where there. There were physicians, nurses, care providers of many types, psychiatric care providers, consumer advisory panel members, and many advocates for Healthcare for the Homeless.

“ The National Health Care for the Homeless Council has 104 Organizational members and over 2100 individual members, organized as the HCH Clinician’s Network, the National Consumer Advisory Board, and the Respite Care Providers Network” NHCHC’s home page
“We recognize and believe that: Homelessness is unacceptable. Every person has the right to adequate food, housing, clothing and healthcare. All people have the right to participate in decisions affecting their lives.” Excerpts from the NHCHC’

I attended many workshops and learned more than I thought I would. Some of them were for doctors, clinicians, etc. but not exclusive anyone could attend. There were so many workshops that I wasn’t even trying to figure out how to spend my time, nor did I have a hard time understanding the information being given. Sometimes I knew there wasn’t enough time because I wanted to attend two different workshops that were at the same time.

A focal point of the conference was a workshop on “Single Payer Healthcare System”, it was titled “The Right To Human Health Care: A Singular Solution”. The NHCHC says it is their “number one policy priority”. H.R. (House Resolution) 676 which is known as “The United States National Health Insurance Act (Expanded & Improved Medicare for ALL”) which has been sponsored by Rep. John Conyers is single payer. For those of you who don’t know what a single payer system is, it will be a financial system that only has one entity acting as the “payer” so with healthcare it would all be run by the government. This means that all doctors, healthcare providers and hospitals would bill the government for all of their services thus eliminating private insurance companies. A portion of the funding for H.R. 1200 will be to retrain displaced workers from the insurance field during the first few years of its implementation. As of April 27, 09 there are currently 75 Representatives of Congress co-sponsoring H.R. 676. Rep Barney Frank spoke to us in support of single payer; he being witty put it simply talking about government employees “They have it… why not the rest of the people”.

“Distinctly different from socialized medicine, whereby the government owns and operates healthcare facilities, a “single payer system” is simply a financing mechanism. Care is provided privately at hospitals and clinics but paid for publicly.” David Himmelstein M.D. co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Plan

At this time in history there are thousands upon thousands of healthcare organizations, HMOs, etc. With all these different agencies, insurance agencies and billing agencies what happens is a huge amount of administrative waste. All of these systems/agencies having different billing codes etc. make for a chaotic way of paying all of them. With a single payer healthcare system ALL Americans would receive comprehensive medical benefits. This would include all medically necessary services, homecare, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, med supplies, preventive and public measures and mental healthcare. People will be allowed to choose where they get their care. All care will be based on a person’s needs ….not if they can pay. Hospitals will only bill the government; they would receive an annual payment from the government to cover all operating costs. Doctors would have 3 choices for payment salaried positions in hospitals, fee for service, and salaried positions within clinics: with these group practices fees would be negotiated by a representative of the fee for service practitioners.

A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund findings are: “75 million adults (42% under age 65 had either no insurance or inadequate insurance”.

Another equally impressive workshop was “Using Mortality Risk to Inform Outreach, Housing Placement and Advocacy” This workshop primarily focused on the chronically homeless and was led by Dr. James O’Connell President of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless and Becky Kanis of the Common Ground Institute New York City. Leading a research team in Boston using “The Vulnerability Index” (a tool to “identify and prioritize” the population of the street homeless for housing according to the “fragility of their health” Dr. Jim O’Connell Boston team “identified the specific health conditions that cause homeless persons to be at risk of dying on the street. The index is a survey that rates a person’s risk factors, the amount of time homeless, and health status. This “Index” has now been used in other major cities L.A., D.C., New Orleans, Portland Or., (to name a few )all redefining their homeless policies and getting those who are most vulnerable housed….

Common Ground Institute has three parts of their goal to end homelessness. They are 1. Affordable housing, 2. Outreach and 3. Prevention. Becky Kanis’ “Street to Home” program according to the statistics, have reduced the number of homeless in the 20 block area of Times Square by a whopping 87 % and also 43% in the 230 block area of West Midtown adjacent/surrounding Times Square. Through a grant from Common Ground Becky and her co-workers have filled 3,000 housing units in Times Square area alone. One of their many endeavors has included the renovation of a large hotel thus enabling them to house folks who had been on the streets for years. Most of the tenants are still housed and have been able to stabilize their health, mental health, addiction issues while trying to attain a sense of normalcy. Becky’s a definite New Yorker with sardonic wit intact. She clearly has a passion for the work she does and I’m sure that with all the obstacles she‘s ascended getting folks housed, still wears her heart on her sleeve.

On June 26, 09 it was hazy, hot, and muggy. I was making a silent prayer to the rain god to let us have a short lived thunder storm. Most everyone had finished their workshops for the day but there was still one thing to do… yep we had a rally at Union Station for Single Payer. So we ran to grab a bite to eat and walked to the rally, and some of us rolled in our wheelchairs. It was a good rally but unfortunately small. I know that some people had to get back home and others were just a bit overwhelmed after a full eight hour day in the workshops. We still were there representing not only what we feel needs to be implemented into our nation’s health policy but that it is also a pure and simple human right… healthcare for all. As night fell I ventured back outside to join the fellow smokers outside (I know it’s bad) I finished my cigarette rolled up the street in my wheelchair and looked at the Capitol, and smiled knowing that there are still patriots in this country of ours and patriots of healthcare like the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Common Ground Institute, advocates of healthcare and Single-Payer.

If you are interested in contacting:

National Health Care for the Homeless Council

Common Ground Institute


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