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UC lecture focuses on patients' rights, U.S. health care

Release Date:  Wednesday, February 01, 2012

by Zac Taylor
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It didn't take long for the question-and-answer session at Tuesday evening's University of Charleston lecture on patients' rights to steer inevitably down the path of universal health care.

The first query that moderator and university President Ed Welch relayed to the guest speakers questioned why the U.S. could not adopt a single-payer health-care policy similar to those that many European nations already practice.

Both Tony Coelho, a former congressman and primary author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Tommy G. Thompson, the former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary and governor of Wisconsin, gave no illusion throughout the debate that the country doesn't have problems with its health-care system.

But neither speaker believed that universal coverage is the answer.

"I don't believe in universal health care," Thompson told those in the audience, many of whom stood at the back of Geary Auditorium. "I don't believe in government control."

Coelho echoed a similar sentiment, pointing out that single-payer systems In Europe have their own flaws. Patients wait for care in long lines, and cannot receive some medications unless the government specifically approves them.

"I like the concept of some type of universal system," Coelho said, but added that the system wouldn't work in the U.S. and that American citizens would decry its implementation. "They would revolt against it."

Tuesday's lecture is the first installment in The University of Charleston's annual speaker series, which is sponsored by the Maier Foundation and the Elizabeth and Herchiel Sims Fund at the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation.

Both Coelho and Thompson staunchly defended patients' rights to decide their own course of medical care, including their right to choose what medications doctors prescribe, even if a government-funded study has deemed that medication ineffective.

Members of Thompson's family, including his daughter and wife, have struggled with breast cancer. He said that most patients, especially breast cancer patients, know what medications work and what medications do not.

Coelho agreed, labeling some studies as bureaucratic, poorly worded and confusing cash sinks.

"We spend a lot of money on research nobody understands," he said.

Both speakers also urged Americans to be more proactive about preventing health problems. Preventative measures would solve a lot of the financial problems current government-run health care programs -- like Medicare -- suffer from.

Thompson said that chronic illness accounts for about 78 percent of the cost of health-care nationwide.

Coelho said that people should take care of themselves in order to fulfill an obligation to society.

"If you smoke, have you fulfilled your obligation to society?" he asked. "I don't think so."

The next lecture, titled "Providing America's Power," is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 7 in Riggleman Hall.
 

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