Sunday, November 08, 2009

Congress, give us healthcare!!

Personal stories of medical tragedies from Canada and the U.K. have circulated in the heat of the healthcare reform debate, along with myths and outright propaganda (e.g. Republican Chuck Grassley claiming that Ted Kennedy would have been left untreated, to die in the U.K.; Sarah Palin and death panels). Unfortunately, doctors in all parts of the world are not perfect. Iatrogenic disease (disease caused by medical [mal]treatment) is all too commonplace in all healthcare systems and will remain so at least until personalized medicine—a focus on each individual patient’s background and presentation—takes hold. For example, the Institute of Medicine has estimated that as many as 1.5 million people in the United States experience preventable medication errors, such as wrong diagnoses, bad treatment choices, wrong dosages, etc. that lead to negative consequences, including death. Hence, there are plenty of personal horror stories out there of mistreatment in medicine. Still, there is no excuse for a first world nation adopting continuing blanket policies that abandon the food or healthcare needs of its own citizens. That is not the same level of negligence as isolated case stories of bad medicine.

And indeed, the United States does not measure up in the statistics. Overall, the US is listed as 37th in healthcare, behind the United Kingdom (18th) according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the leading international health coalition. Ranking according to life expectancy also puts us behind the UK (14) and Canada (12), at 24, while we are second from the top in the amount of money spent on healthcare. The assertion that we have the “best healthcare in the world” is not necessarily wrong, it just needs to be followed by “for those elite that can afford that care.” A poor or middle class citizen would fare better in a socialized country, where the common man is given regular treatment and preventative care. The British have a system with an option to pay for additional insurance that offers further care benefits, beyond the basic public level that insures people no matter how rich or poor—all British citizens have the right to health care. In stark contrast, the current American system is hallmarked by refusal of insurance, and hence, care, especially for those with chronic conditions who have “preconditions". With regular checkups and good preventative care, the development of disease is identified and halted at an earlier stage, potentially leading to a longer life.

Inherently, the premise of the American system is wrong. The main goal of the insurance industry is profit; hence they endeavor to serve only the healthy in order to maximize their earnings. Thereby this allows the top insurance companies to pocket billions of dollars in profit, making them the most profitable industry in all of America in 2006. Instead, the health care system should be a service industry, focused on the well-being of the citizens of America, enabling us to be more productive and better contributors to our society. Oh, to live in a country where upon arriving to the hospital, the doctor’s first question is, “Where are you injured?” instead of, “What is your health insurance coverage?”

A call to inquire about the stance of our Congressional representatives, Senator Schumer and Representative Lee landed me in a discussion with an employee for the latter regarding why he was voting against including a public option. “The government should not be involved in healthcare” was quickly discounted as it was noted that the government already handles the healthcare for older adults (Medicare), veterans, and disabled Americans (Medicaid). The phone lackey then quickly retorted that the public option would be a financial loss to the US government (i.e. taxpayers) as, for example, Strong serves the Medicare population and operates at a loss to the tune of 7 cents out of a dollar. Inarguable facts, however, the populations in question are groups of individuals that require more healthcare than any other group: the elderly, veterans, and disabled. The public option would serve the rest of us, many of whom are healthy, thereby not requiring the same level of care, or on other words, the same expenditures.

The leading body of physicians in the United States, the American Medical Association, as well as others (e.g. The American Association of Emergency Medicine and AARP) support a public option for health insurance, as do the majority of American people. Congress, who do you think you are representing? Health insurance companies? I have never seen one of them at the polls in November.