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Waiting Room Tragedies And The Need For Universal Health Care

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Candida Diego fractured her skull in a fall in September of 2004. After being cleared for a brain scan to check for bleeding, she became partially paralyzed because she spent two hours in a waiting room before the hospital performed the scan. On October 3, 2008, she was awarded $10.7 million in compensation for the hospitals negligence.

Similarly, Beatrice Vance went into Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan, near Chicago, in July of 2006 complaining of chest pains. She checked in at 10:15 p.m. only to wait, and wait, and wait until she collapsed at 12:25 a.m., dead of a heart attack at the age of 49.

Unfortunately, tragedies like this have become common place due to increased demand, staff shortages, and hospital closings. In the Vance case, a coroner’s jury called her death a homicide, partly due to the long wait in the ER. A coroner’s jury determines the cause of death in certain cases, but do not try cases.

The number of U.S. emergency rooms declined 12% between 1993 and 2003, while there has been an increase of 26% in the number of patients seeking emergency room care. In an effort to correct the problem, many hospitals have created "fast-track" programs to help patients who do not require hospitalization and lack health insurance. These patients account for much of the increased demand, and tend to have to wait the longest for care because they go to the ER instead of a regular doctor.

Until more of these "fast-track" programs are implemented on a national scale, these issues will likely persist. The election of President-Elect Barack Obama may be the first step towards curing some of the health industry’s ills. Under the Obama-Biden plan, an investment in electronic health information technology systems will help doctors coordinate care, reduce medical errors, and help process claims quicker which can speed up the process in the ER waiting rooms.

Universal health care coverage is the key to reducing the over crowding of waiting rooms with the uninsured for non-emergency health issues. "The Obama-Biden plan provides new affordable health insurance options by: (1) guaranteeing eligibility for all health insurance plans; (2) creating a National Health Insurance Exchange to help Americans and businesses purchase private health insurance; (3) providing new tax credits to families who can’t afford health insurance and to small businesses with a new Small Business Health Tax Credit; (4) requiring all large employers to contribute towards health coverage for their employees or towards the cost of the public plan; (5) requiring all children have health care coverage; (5) expanding eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs; and (6) allowing flexibility for state health reform plans."

Only by directly addressing all of these issues in a comprehensive health care reform package can we implement the kind of change that we need in the health care system. We should not allow the tragedies like that of Candida Diego and Beatrice Vance to continue in the most prosperous nation in the world.