Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Problem with the Health Care Debate

One of the ideas that keeps coming up is that "socialized health care makes you wait forever for medical care." This seems to be the one of the most widely circulated attacks against health care reform and the "Public Option" and it has quickly become popular wisdom. Usually the speaker supports his or her claim with a terrible story of delayed medical care in Canada or Europe and they subtly imply that if that person was here everything would have been A-OK.

The problem is that it is a logical fallacy to compare the worse cases of socialized medicine with an idealized version of the American health care system. There are successes and failures in both systems and our national debate needs to acknowledge this. A very large majority of Canadians and Europeans receive good health care every time they need it. The proof is in the pudding: their life expectancy is longer and their infant mortality rates are lower. Conversely, there are Americans who are not being well served by our health care system. Just by chance, three friends have experienced the limitations of our system in just the past week and all of them have health insurance.

I'd like to share their stories with you. I am not trying to suggest that these cases would be perfect under a government run system, just that our system is not perfect and it needs improvement.

A teenager who is a friend of mine has been suffering from back pain since an accident at camp last summer. At the time of the accident he was diagnosed with a back sprain and told to take it easy. The pain did not completely go away and by this spring he went back to see the doctor. At the end of April a specialist told him that he may have a fractured vertebra and that he needed a bone density scan. The earliest that he could schedule the scan was July 1st, a whole nine weeks later. Nine weeks of full backpacks, and nervous waiting.

A friend at work suffers from chronic back pain due to work and automobile accident related injuries. This is a condition he has lived with for at least 10 years and that will be with him for the rest of his life. He has found that he can control his pain and improve his mobility by visiting a chiropractor two or three times a month. Unfortunately our health insurance at work (we have a very good and generous system) has a limit on the amount of money it will pay out in a plan year for chiropractic services. Since our plan year runs July to June, my friend has been unable to go to the chiropractor for the last few months because he is unable to afford the visits. It is not a surprise that he had an appointment July 1.

Finally another friend of mine has been in pain from her gallbladder for nearly a year. She has been to two specialists and has had many tests run to prove that she needs to have her gallbladder removed. Both specialists recommended that she have gallbladder surgically removed, but her insurance company rejected her several times because she "doesn't fit the clinical picture" of a patient for gallbladder surgery. Only after nearly begging her insurance and jumping through several more hoops, today she finally received approved for surgery. If two doctors say you need a procedure, it is an injustice for your insurance company to deny you that procedure.

Our system is failing and to point at the speck in Canada's eye is to ignore the problem. People who have insurance here are denied the level of service that they deserve. Socialized medicine is not perfect, but why can we not study what does works and implement those ideas here? our country deserves the best health care system for all of our citizens.

1 comment:

  1. The system is broken - I believe the majority of individuals, on both sides of the playing field would agree on this point. However, the true argument lies with the speed and cost of healthcare reform. While it is not unwise to study other systems of healthcare, you cannot assess healthcare as an individual topic, but must analyze it as part of a whole. To implement healthcare of more socialistic countries would require, importantly, changes in the thinking of the majority of the people. The cost is the hardest part to swallow - for instance to pay for this healthcare system (if imitating socialism) lower salaries would need to be implemented, from those working to develop medical products to doctors and nurses to hospital administrators AND taxes would increase - both ideas are unpalatable to many individuals in such harsh economic times. Alternative ways to pay for such a system will take time to develop - if even possible - and this is a sticking point for many. To alter this system is a formidable task, which while warranted, should not be rushed. If an excess of change is to occur, it is the responsibility of (1) the government to inform and (2) the people to be educated and make their opinions known - and both tasks require much time. Further, one cannot draw conclusions based solely upon life expectancy and infant mortality data - while these are markers used for analysis, it is wise to again, assess the entire picture. For instance, more vacation, decreased weekly work hours, more liberal birth control, differences in transportation (e.g. walking/biking to work), access to healthier foods, etc. could all be responsible for these outcomes, not necessarily the healthcare system. If these ideas are taken together, along with a whole host of additional topics which are vented daily, it can be safely concluded that healthcare reform will need a reform of the American mindset to be successful, and thus should not be oversimplified.

    That being said - glad to see you're blogging, dialogue is always necessary for progress.