Sunday, September 20, 2009
Emotions are running high around the health care debate. Fear, anger and resentment are all over the radio and TV, in town halls and even shouted at the president during his speech to Congress. Why are some of our citizens so afraid? The first fear mentioned is typically "socialized medicine." One of the best examples worldwide of socialized medicine is our own Veterans Administration: It is completely government-owned and operated, with the hospitals and doctors employed by the federal government. An excellent example of partially government-run health care is Medicare: Payment comes from the government, but doctors and hospitals are private. And yet Medicare and the Veterans Administration are two of the favorite forms of health care in this country. Maybe "socialized medicine" isn't quite as scary as we've been told.
Great fear has been generated about a "government take-over of health care." Do you really trust profit-centered insurance companies, whose CEOs walk away with millions of dollars in salary and bonuses and - as one of the country's largest insurance companies did - drop 8 million clients to improve their stock price? Will they really do a better job of caring for you when you need it most? Compare this to our freedom to get to know our chosen legislative candidates and then work hard to elect them. Once in office, these people who are responsible to us are not getting wealthy from their oversight of health care and can be voted out of office if we don't approve of their performance. We have no such control of huge multibillion-dollar insurance companies.
Much fear also has been created around the ideas of government taking away choice and denying care. Our choice already is severely limited. If we have coverage, for example, there are limits depending on whether our provider is in or out of network, or whether the needed type of care is covered. Worse yet, many policy-holders find their coverage denied when they hit an arbitrary ceiling. And for folks without coverage, if you don't have the money, you don't get care, period. But there's always the emergency room, right? People without coverage are forced to wait until they can't endure the pain any longer and then go in for the most expensive care possible, paid for by everyone else.
And speaking of taking care of everyone else, what has happened to care and compassion for others? That most important concept is remarkably lacking in a discussion about one of the most basic needs of humanity. From my understanding, being caring and compassionate is at the heart of Jesus' message, and that of every other major religion. Let's take this message to heart and pool our resources to care for all.
Other countries around the world have this figured out. National health care covers everyone, for a fraction of the cost, and with much better health outcomes. "The Healing of America" is written by journalist T.R. Reid, who lived on three continents with his family and used local health care systems in each country. His book compares health care in France, Japan, Germany, Britain and Canada on an apples-to-apples basis. These countries use a variety of systems, ranging from total government operation to free-market insurance companies and private doctors and hospitals. The one huge difference is that their insurance companies are nonprofits; health care is considered a basic right, not a profit center. Because of their size and bargaining power, drugs (the same brand and manufacturer) cost one-quarter to one-half as much as in the U.S., and hospital and doctor costs are strictly regulated. Doctors are paid reasonably and promptly, with extremely low malpractice insurance rates and incidence of being sued. For patients, there is more choice, less waiting (in many countries), and no denial of care. Reid provides a reasoned and informed voice in naming the benefits and drawbacks present in each system.
The United States is on a precipice; we can do the morally upright thing and institute national health care for all, or we can continue to rely on an overpriced, inequitable and profit-driven health care system. Let's have the humility and intelligence to learn from others' experience. Let's put together a system with the best of each country's time-proven ideas, make it our own and cover every one of our citizens.
Linda was a Chiropractor in Steamboat from 1980 to 2008.