Health Care, Shmealth Care, what’s all the fuss about?
Health Care. OK, this seems to be a touchy topic, so what the hell, I’ll wade right in. My last basically throwaway post sure got a lot of comments, I’ll see what we can generate this time. For today’s post, I’m going to proceed from the general to the specific. IE I will make some general observations about health care in the USA, then discuss the Obama plan. And this will definitely be generalized and only scratch the surface. I’d say you could write a book about the Obama plan alone, but that would be an understatement since the plan itself is a book, over 1000 pages long.
My first point is that there is a fabulous amount of misinformation being bandied about regarding the topic of health care. As far as I can tell, most Americans are pretty much unaware of how our own system works, and completely utterly misinformed about how health care works in other countries. It’s not that they don’t know about other countries, it’s that they are firmly convinced of things about them that just aren’t so. As a Canadian, it’s shocking to me how badly the Canadian system is misrepresented in the USA. I’ve only ever known one Canadian who complained about the Canadian system, and she was someone who could charitably be described as a filthy rich snob. Average Canadians for the most part are perfectly happy with a system, sure, there’s some kvetching, there’s always kvetching anywhere.
The second point is that most Americans seem to be under the impression that our health care system works. And is some ways it does, it’s certainly better than the health care system in virtually all the non-industrialized world. Which isn’t saying much, nu? There are some major problems, problems that need to be addressed. For one thing we spend a huge amount of money on health care, and the costs have been rising faster than inflation for decades. We spend more money per capita than any other country on health care, that alone is shocking, especially considering that millions of people have little access to care. And as much of a third of that money is wasted, all sorts of extra tests and necessary medications are administered because doctors are afraid of malpractice. just for starters. Medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the USA, that alone is a national disgrace. And yeah, for those who say that the uninsured can just “go to county hospitals.” Yes, in fact they can go to any ER and get treatment. Of course having people go to an emergency room for treatment is the most fabulously expensive way to provide people with health care, another reason our health care costs are astronomical. Then there’s the problem that the average American spends more money on health care in the last year of their life than in their entire previous life. And while this makes sense in some cases, a huge chunk of this is dying senior citizens having their life extended for a few months by heroic care … often against their express wishes! Sigh. I could go on, but this article seems to cover many of the problems with the US system in a reasonably neutral way.
Point three. We would all benefit from cradle to grave health care. I know that sounds simple, but again and again I hear Calvinist arguments that “people should just buy their own health insurance, if they don’t, tough. ” The problem with this argument is that while it may have a certain “holier than thou” appeal, in practise it means that the uninsured cost the taxpayer far more money for health care than if we simply insured them. First off, the direct cost of having people wait till they are sick enough for a visit to the ER. And a second cost because of all the productivity lost (let alone lives lost) because of the unavailability of health care. When workers don’t show up at work because they are sick, that increases costs to business … that are simply passed on to us. Lastly, and one would think obviously, do people want the person who sat down at that table in MacDonald’s before them and their family to be treated for their communicable illnesses or not? Apparently with some people the answer is no, we want our families to be exposed to sick people in the streets.
In any event, we come to the Obama system. First off, as a commenter helpfully showed yesterday, there’s a fabulous amount of lies and dis-information being spread about Obama’s plan. Some of it makes my jaw drop, there’s people with a straight face claiming this bill will result in seniors being “euthanized” as the government decides what care they should get. Right. More than 22,000 people die every single year in the USA for lack of health coverage, a problem the Obama mitigates, but people would rather let these people die because some spam email told them the plan was going to kill people? I don’t think I can even debate with people so partisan that anything Obama proposes must be opposed, because that’s where a lot of this”outrage” appears to be coming from.
In any event, the main criticism of the Obama plan is how much it will cost. I’ve seen estimates as high as one and a half trillion over the next decade. That is a lot of money, no doubt about it. And while the plan does propose to rein in rising health care costs by addressing some (but not all) of the problems in the current system, no one thinks it will add up to a trillion and a half dollars in savings. Two points here. I can see an easy way to save that much or more over the next decade. Let’s pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq tomorrow. That will save far more than a trillion and a half dollars, both in direct savings, and in indirect savings because Americans won’t be getting maimed and psychologically scarred in foreign wars. And in any event, we’ve given trillions of dollars to the banks just this past year, apparently to save executive bonuses. What the hell is wrong with spending a trillion and a half dollars over ten years if it provides millions of American with health care? I mean if it’s the government’s job to protect Americans, health care is the front line since disease and injury kills more Americans ever year than all the wars and terrorist attacks in US history combined.
But of course the US government, both factions of it, don’t give a rat’s ass about saving American lives. It’s about saving corporate profits (and subsequent campaign financing,) and foreign wars and sick Americans are a source of almost mind-numbing profit. So sadly, I fully expect Obama’s plan will be shot down, or so gutted as to be simply yet another layer of bureaucracy designed to make Americans think we are being cared for … when in fact they government is just performing yet another wallet drain and moneyectomy on lower and middle class Americans.
(The above image is public domain under US copyright law as it was created around 1528. Credit: Hans von Gersdorff. Der verwundete Mann. Feldtbůch der Wundartzney (Strasburg, 1528). Field book of surgery. The wounded man. Yes, I would definitely say he has been seriously wounded. Of course he should have waited until his suit of armour came back from the cleaners before running around a battlefield.)