healthcareI know that there are downsides to socialized medicine, (and please feel free to tell me what they are) but I want to write about the upsides, and maybe the sidesides.

From my uninsured, and non-expert opinion, I think that the U.S. having Universal Health Care is a good idea. The main reason is that we have 50,000,000 people who are uninsured right now. We live in the richest nation in the world, and yet 16% of our population can’t get the help they need when it comes to health problems. The United States pays the most for health care, more than any other country, yet on almost any scale you choose to measure, we rank last. Out of Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the USA, we rank last on quality care, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives.

I started getting interested in this subject when I got Michael Moore’s “Sicko” out from the library. Now I know what you’re thinking.

“That is a load of democratic socialist propaganda!”

Maybe. So I also watched this Frontline report that also tackles the issue of Universal Health Care with a more dispassionate, intelligent approach. T.R.Reid (Washington Post reporter) goes around to the second and third wealthiest nations, among others, and investigates their health care systems. He evaluates each system on how much it costs to the public, the effects on the insurance and drug companies, the level of care, and most telling of all, how many people in that country go bankrupt every year from medical bills. ( None, as opposed to 700,000 in the U.S.) He tries to take the best of each program and apply it to the U.S. One of the interesting points was that not all countries have total government owned hospitals. Japan and Germany have privately owned doctors offices, hospitals, and insurance companies. Hmm, maybe we can do this in America after all.

When most people hear “Universal Health Care,” they automatically think, “Total Government Control! Big Brother! Waiting months to see a doctor!” The reality is much less alarming. In fact, we already have government run health care in America. Just look at the care we provide our Veterans. Putting the scandal a few years ago aside, the network of VA hospitals offers some of the best care in the country. Don’t believe me? read this excerpt about the VA.

The Annals of Internal Medicine in 2004, published a a study that compared Veteran’s health facilities with commercial managed care systems in their treatment of diabetes patients. In seven out of seven measures of quality, the VA provided better care. A RAND Corporation study published in the same journal concluded that VA outperforms all other sectors of American health care in 294 measures of quality.

One of the big complaints that people have with government run health care, is that people have to wait a long time to be helped. Really? Cause when I took my Mom to the Emergency Room at a local hospital in NY with a severe cut to her forearm at 10:00 p.m., we had to wait until 3:30 a.m. for her to be taken care of. And it was not a bustling downtown ER with gunshot victims. I find it hard to imagine that we would have to wait more than five hours to be seen somewhere in Europe.

From what I’ve read, seen, heard from friends, and (gasp) in fact experienced myself, medical care overseas is prompt, professional, and cheap. When I traveled to Ireland, I got in infection (sparing details) that made my ears feel like I was fifty feet underwater. We went to a small clinic in a seaside village where I was seen immediately. I was a foreigner, and yet they saw me right away, proscribed medicine, and only charged me seven pounds ($15). If the situation were reversed, I’m sure that the sick Irishman would have to pay at least $150 for the appointment, that is, if they agreed to treat him in the first place without the consent of an American insurance company.

I’m going to post this now, but will be adding to this article as I learn more.

  1. Well I see you’ve done your homework but you forgot to look at one problem of the current health care system in the US. The cost of it. The US health system is not run for the benefit of the patient or the doctors, it is a for-profit system run for the benefit of the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders and that’s just not right. The Obama health care plan would definitely solve this. Although some people may argue that the cost will be just transfered to taxes but that is not true. If you look at the cost of the Canadian health care system it is much much lower and we do not pay outrageous taxes on it. Nevertheless, nice article.

    Take care, Lorne

  2. Sully says:

    Your take is interesting, although as you said earlier in your comment on the other thread about my blog, your take on healthcare is pretty much opposite mine, at least as indicated by this post.

    The complaint most often made about the socialized system is not about emergency room care, but rather about long term waits for procedures those systems don’t consider high priority and for which they don’t maintain much capacity, such as hip replacements and other sorts of sevices for the elderly. A lot of our spending is on late in life care, and a lot, proportionally to the number of lives involved is on something I at least consider to have gone to the realm of the ridiculous – intensive care provided for very premature birth babies which, by the way has been argued as one of the reasons our baby survival rate appears poor in contrast to countries that (more logically in my opinion) don’t even try with extreme preemies (under 500 g birth weight I think is the number I’ve seen) and which don’t count those as live births thus making their live birth statistics not pomparable with ours.

    Both sides on the national scene avoid the intensive care for 80% unsurvivable preemies because the D’s don’t want to talk about ultramodern intensive care for tiny fetuses on one side of the hospital while there are abortions being done on the other side, and the R’s don’t want to concede that there is a practical point before which the fetus cannot be seen with any logic as deserving full status as human life.

    The concept of death panels was used to death, and unfairly, a little ways back; but I have a take on that you may find interesting because the demand is unlimited and resources are always constrained. No matter how health care is managed there will be some sort of rationing. Our system rations more or less by ability to pay for extraordinary care. Socialist systems ration, arguably more rationally with regard to people as a whole but less rationally from the point of view of any one individual, by deciding how many of each type of doctor and equipment to fund, thus causing long waiting lists for procedures thought less important or cost effective. I don’t trust government to make those sorts of decisions for me out of both philosphical beliefs and from practical observation of the actual doings and decision making processes of large bureaucratic organizations – not just government ones.

    In this regard insurance companies are often villainized, a lot of times because they do things just like the things big government bureaucracies do. My point of view on that is that insurance companies are constrained by the threat of government intervention and regulation whereas if we get an overarching government bureaucracy in charge of health care that bureaucracy will be very hard to constrain. It’s a qui custodiet custodies problem.

    I’m skeptical of a lot of the statistics produced that purport to show that our outcomes are worse than those of other countries because we have a much more diverse and larger immigrant population, and we have more of the sort of pathologies (obesity, lack of exercise, etc.) that come with wealth because we are the wealthiest large country. I’ve looked for the sort of studies (for instance swedish americans versus swedes matched for weight, smoking, etc,) that would truly be reliable, but I haven’t found them. The studies that show outcomes for people with specific diseases such as cancers, high cholesterol, etc. seem to me to show that when we get care we get the best care.

    The fifty million often cited as uninsured include a lot who could be insured if they valued health insurance as much as, for instance, large screen TV’s and cars twice as large as those thought adequate by Europeans. That number also includes our 10 or 12 million illegal immigrants. And it includes people only temporarily uninsured because they are between jobs – that caused by the mistake we made decades ago of tying health insurance to employers because of tax system inequities.

    I have to run now, but as you mentioned I’ve written about some of this on my blog, although I try to avoid too much politics there. I write the blog for pleasure, and for the benefit of some relatives who enjoy it. Getting too agitated or preoccupied about of with politics does not contribute to either goal.

    PS – I don’t call people Hitler because that man, even though he came along almost simultaneously in history with the equally evil Stalin and Mao, was a thankfully almost unique figure. Almost unique – Ghenghis, Napoleon, Pol Pot, the Chinese emperor who built most of the great wall, more than a couple of Roman Emperors, several Ottoman Sultans and others were similar sorts. I would point out that all of those especially bad sorts could do their evil on such scale because they held very centralized power, which is one reason I’m very biased against things, like national health care, that tend to centralize and concentrate power. The guys who concentrate that power may be themselves perfectly good guys. It’s the pathological fellow who may come along and find himself in possession of that that power that I worry about.

    Now – having commented way beyond my actual understanding and expertise in history, based as it is primarily on Will and Ariel Durant’s History of Civilization series and other popular history books plus a whole bunch of novels – to lighten things up a bit here’s the first verse of the latest zombie pop hit which I wrote the other day.

    Zombies, zombies who need people
    They’re the hungriest zombies in the world
    Given one person, one plump and tasty person
    A hunger deep in their soul,
    Says he’s now half, and not whole,
    No more hunger and thirst
    ‘Til next there is hunger for people
    Zombies who’ve had people
    Are the happiest zombies in the world.

  3. alpinmack says:

    Hmmm, where to begin. First, thanks for your thorough comment.I agree with your point about long term waits for “quality of life” operations like joint replacements. At least from what I’ve read. You say that much of our health spending late in life. I would ask two questions. If people had access to a free system, would we need more later care if we took advantage of better preventative care? And, how much is our drug-addled (prescription drug companies) culture to blame for the higher spending late in life? In Moore’s movie, a woman buys her asthma medicine for 5 cents where in the States, it was $120. Or something to that effect.
    As for the babies, that is a tough issue. Being Christian, I would have to support any effort to save a life, however small the chance.
    We do ration our medical care here by finance. However I tend to agree with people that basic health care should be a right in a country as advanced as ours.
    You make a good point about who, if I may borrow from a popular movie, “Watches the Watchmen.” But I say that we already have many socialist systems here in the U.S. The postal service. The education system, the police, firemen, trash collectors…the list goes on. All run by the government, all effecting our lives everyday. So what is the big difference?
    You also hit the nail on the head when you mentioned our lower class culture. The bigger your TV and rims on your SUV are, the better. Who cares about health insurance? It isn’t a priority for many people, until they get sick and can’t get care.
    It is hard to compare our system to Europe because the culture is different. People eat healthier there, from local markets with fresh food. Their cities are laid out in a way that encourages walking, or bike riding. The longer vacations they have promote better mental health. And of course the smaller cars. I only saw one pickup truck while I was in Germany. Just one!
    Well, this is a tough issue. I appreciate your willingness to converse and not get too political. And I like the zombie song. I want to hear some music next.

  4. Sully says:

    I have to be quick because I have a meeting to go to.

    Yes we have many socialist systems, and I don’t want my health care run by a system that resembles most of them.

    Also, remember that trusting the kind of people motivated to seek political power is always dangerous. We need a president but we should never fully trust a president. For one thing the kind of person who becomes president is usually capable of holding a perfectly pleasant conversation over dinner and then briefly interrupting the conversation to hold a short quiet colloquy with a military guy who comes in and gives him something to sign that will permit a missile launch based on suspicion somewhere in the world.

    I haven’t seen Moore’s movie to comment directly re the asthma medicine cost but I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a cousin of mine once. He was outraged because a friend had told him his mother was taking a very expensive heart medicine which contained the same drug as the fairly cheap medicine their vet had prescribed for their dog. I told him it sounded like there was an easy answer to the problem. If it was indeed the exact same medicine his friend should stop buying the human medicine for his mother and simply give her the cheaper dog medicine.

    Same sort of thing – An aunt of mine once complained about the cost of her recent twenty minute eye operation. First I told her that an operation to make one see again seemed to me to be a pretty darn valuable thing, well nigh priceless. And I told her that it takes pretty special training and skill to know how to stick sharp things into people’s eyes without bad results. Finally I told her that I would study up a bit on the matter and do the other eye for her much cheaper if she wanted.

    On a more serious note, I believe that there should be a law forbidding truly equivalent pharmaceuticals from being sold for more in the U.S. than the cheapest price for which they are sold overseas. That would end the current practice whereby pharma companies sell drugs to overseas socialized systems (due to the bargaining power of such systems) for less than they charge here in the U.S. I understand the marginal cost economics of such practices but think their simply wrong on a lot of levels.

    Not that pharmaceuticals are expensive. Quite on the contrary, they are dirt cheap next to hospital, doctor and nursing care. Imagine the cost of treating the kinds of things that the “evil” drug companies have relieved us of.

    Which brings me to another reason I don’t want a national health care system. Our profit based system maximizes the incentive for the development of new drugs, procedures, devices, etc. It’s hard for me to imagine that a government system won’t be tempted to throttle back that incentive, as the current socialized systems do.

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