AMERICA'S HEALTH SYSTEM IS BROKEN

(07/31/2009)

Between the Lines
America is up to the challenge
Opinion by David Hedges, Publisher July, 2009
The Times Record

The American people voted for change. At the same time, we remain a little frightened by it.

Polls clearly indicate the American people are less than satisfied with the way health care is delivered today, and in particular the costs associated with it. We stand as the only industrialized nation on earth where health care is a privilege, not a right.

We spend more - far more - on health care than any other nation, yet lag far behind other nations in nearly all health care indicators. We like to think we have the best health care in the world. The statistics show we are not even close to that.

The cost of health care is crippling some of our larger industries. The price of manufacturing an automobile in the U.S. has $6,000 in health care costs in it that cars made in Canada do not. Check the label inside the driver's door on your "American" car. Odds are fairly good it was made in Canada.

Some large corporations like things the way they are, with others paying the cost of health care for their workers. In West Virginia, employees of Walmart, Asplundh and McDonald's, in that order, are the three largest users of the state's CHIPs program that provides health care for children of uninsured workers. Why should these corporations want to pay their share for health care when the taxpayers, including some much smaller companies, are doing it so far for them? And taxing those companies that do provide benefits, as has been suggested by some, makes no sense. In America we use tax policy to encourage behavior we deem beneficial. This type of tax would be just the opposite, and would likely be a benefit to those, such as the aforementioned, that are already shirking their share of the responsibility.

We fear what might happen if the government "takes over" health care. That happened years ago. At our local hospital, for instance, well over 80 percent of the revenue comes from government payers. Not only do they pay the bills, the government, mostly through the Medicare program, also sets the tone for what kinds of charges are acceptable. Insurance companies generally follow their lead.

For years opponents have warned of the dangers of "socialized" medicine. Now many of these same opponents are enjoying the benefits of Medicare and "Social" Security.

Now that we may be on the verge of health care reform, there is hesitation - a fear - of what might happen, particularly in Congress, if we do make changes. But looking at the alternative, which is doing nothing - or doing next-to-nothing and calling it something - do we really trust the insurance companies to run our health care system instead of ourselves?

The things we were warned would happen if the government took over - inability to choose your own doctor, lengthy waits for procedures, an impersonalized system with limited choices - have already happened with the HMOs and insurance companies.

They just call it by different names, like "preferred providers" or "preauthorization." They tell you what kind of care you can have, when you can have it and from whom.

Doctors' organizations used to be opposed to the government's involvement in health care. But since Medicare came into existence, the standard of living for the average doctor has risen substantially.

Doctors now no longer shun government's involvement, realizing that Uncle Sam has much deeper pockets than the rest of us.

It's a big poker game, and the stakes gave gotten higher. Many physicians welcome a new infusion of cash.

But real reform must include more than just throwing money at the problem. Costs must also be brought under control, which will make some people uncomfortable.

The road to health care reform will be a difficult one. A lot of people are making a lot of money off the system the way it is now, and they don't want to see that change.

But there's no reason to think that America, the land where anything is possible, cannot find a way to do what every other industrialized nation in the world is already doing.

We have, at least for a brief period of time, a chance for some real change. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that moment.


Hur Herald ®from Sunny Cal
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