Campus Progress Event: Sick and Broke

A Conversation About Health Care with Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards spoke to young people about health care policy in the upcoming election at an event sponsored by Campus Progress.

The George Washington School of Medicine burst with excitement as students and community members braved the wind and rain to see Elizabeth Edwards speak about young people and health care policy in the upcoming election at an event sponsored by Campus Progress. Ezra Klein, associate editor at The American Prospect, moderated the conversation in which Edwards detailed a health care plan for the next president.


Edwards began by outlining both presidential candidates’ health care plans—and making it clear that she was not satisfied with either one.

According to John McCain, competition would make health care affordable for all Americans. His plan would give citizens the right to choose their own health plan. McCain’s system, Edwards said, relies too heavily on the freedom of the market, which she said has not been effective with today’s insurance companies. McCain’s proposal to allow insurance companies to sell policies across state lines would cause health care providers to flock to the states with the weakest regulations and, as a result, leave out essential coverage because of high cost. Edwards noted that, “Today, only 21 states require maternity care for women,” while many health care agencies do not cover the HPV vaccine, diabetes screenings, or other preventive care.

Edwards said that most Americans, herself included, are unequipped to make informed decisions on their health care programs and would make decisions based on not quality, but on pricing and advertising tricks. Edwards criticized a system that appeals to the “law of the lender…not of the borrower.” She applauded Sen. McCain’s leadership in drafting the “Patient’s Bill of Rights” with her husband, Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA)—a bill to protect the rights of Americans from predatory health insurance companies.

Edwards then turned to Sen. Obama’s health care plan. Although it provides for universal health care for all children, Edwards said that this plan, too, does not go far enough. Obama’s plan for American adults is also based in the competitive market—although it does include health care subsidies for qualified adults.

In detailing her own recommendations, Edwards said that the government has a moral obligation to provide all Americans with health care. Any abrupt transition to government care could do more harm than good, and so Edwards proposed the government slowly phase in its own programs and phase out private health providers. Ezra Klein called this a “soft transition.” Eventually, Americans will gravitate to the government plans because the overhead is smaller and people get the same quality care for less money, said Edwards.

A universal plan could result in lower costs for many Americans. With a government plan, risk would be spread among all patients—both the young and healthy and those with chronic conditions and more health needs, resulting in lower costs across the system.

Ultimately, Edwards said that policymakers have been short sighted. “We’ve been really stupid with our health care dollars,” she said. Klein agreed, and mentioned how much money is lost in employing the huge bureaucracies that manage health care organizations.

Edwards learned firsthand the importance of good health care. “Until October 2004, the only time I went to the hospital was to have babies,” she said, alluding to her diagnosis with breast cancer. She reiterated that health care systems exist to protect Americans when the worst happens, and that they need to provide both preventative and rehabilitative treatment.

The young adults that Edwards addressed are not an invincible population—they are consumers of health care who are also vulnerable to the perils of the health care system: being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, struggling to receive comprehensive coverage and to cover the rising costs of health care. Young people can make a real difference on this issue by holding their leaders accountable and educating themselves and others about the crisis at hand. Edwards helped to inform the crowd of mostly young adults this issue and to focus their passion and energy on health care reform.

Check out more coverage of this event in the Washington Post, ABC News, and Gawker.

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