Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Basic health care is coming

Affordable health care is coming. I can feel it. A public debate is finally underway this year which will result in the political will necessary to make it happen. Individual states like Massachusetts, Tennessee, California abd others have taken initiatives to lighten the load in their respective territories, but state plans will not be enough. As in the case of education, civil rights and and many other public initiatives going all the way back to rural electrification and social security -- promoting the "common welfare" -- the issue will finally be addressed (no, I didn't say solved) at the federal level.

When conservative voices call for someone to get a job in order to get better insurance I know there is a nail in the coffin of the present mess we call health care in America. The market economics juggernaut under which many devotees are sacrificing themselves is finally starting to slow down. I hope to live to see the day when basic universal health care is finally available in America.

This will not be easy. Hard choices will have to be made about who will receive the most costly medical care. That much I understand. It would be madness to believe that everyone who wants and needs it can have bionic improvements to their joints or the most expensive of cosmetic reconstructive surgery following an injury. It will be heart-breaking to see people with mobility problems, especially children, using crutches because they cannot afford to buy a motorized wheel chair. For example, the horrendously expensive recovery of our poster child, Graeme Frost, may very well not be universally available without a "supplemental" private policy. Think "medigap." But that will be part of the new landscape as the real costs of health care become clear.

By "real costs" I mean what it actually costs an emergency room to treat and release a patient in one or two hours, not the "billed charges" reflecting inflated amounts determined by accounting systems insuring that unpaid "bills" are somehow absorbed into the system covered by the lucky (or unlucky) clients with what passes for insurance. The real cost of bandages, suture kits, or other commonly-used supplies are not what is billed. And the real cost of personnel operating the facility is not what is billed. The price of an x-ray should not be much more than a passport photo, plus the costs of enlarging. Even if the technician is making thirty-five dollars an hour and the equipment is worth a million dollars, if these two most costly components of the cost were properly managed (i.e. spend more time in service than waiting unused for the next patient) x-rays should not be "billed" at many hundreds of dollars.

I'm obviously not an expert. I'm like Will Rogers...all I know is what I read in the papers. But I know waste and inefficiency when I see it, and I am not fool enough to imagine that a half-hour visit to the doctor should cost upwards of five hundred or a thousand dollars, no matter how great the doctor is, and I know that plenty of doctor visits are not needed...except maybe to inflate the final bill. Medical billing is a smoke and mirrors game bearing little resemblance to the real costs of providing medical care.

The Swift-Boating of Graeme Frost

The Frosts Demonstrate Why We Need Single Payer Health Care

And all those people who talk about "government health care" need to start saying "government insurance" if the term single-payer sticks in their throat too uncomfortably. The only government health care of which I am aware is that provided the military. Active duty personnel and their families can go to hospitals and doctors taking care of those on active duty. And the Veterans Administration runs a system available to veterans. Other than that, it is an ignorant misuse of the language to speak of "government health care" when referring to single-payer systems whose mission is to reduce administrative costs and eliminate private profits from the system.

After working in a so-called "not-for-profit" system myself for five years I am convinced that even taking into account bureaucratic waste, larded budgets, and outright carelessness and stupidity...a single-payer system has to be more economical for taxpayers than any so-called "insurance" plan from the private sector.

Profits from selling health insurance are not comparable to profits derived from the sale of life insurance. Life insurance is a gambit played between the company and the insured. The company bets you're gonna live and you bet you're gonna die.

Health insurance, however is very different. The company assesses your health, deselecting as many risk factors as possible that might make their end of the arrangement less desirable. You, on the other hand, simply want to be cared for no matter what happens to you. Unlike life insurance, in which both you and the company agree you will eventually die (the duration of your life is the only variable), in the case of health insurance there are a multitude of variables that will affect both you and the company...not the least of which (sorry to mention it) is that you might die anyway. Ever checked the death benefit to your "health" insurance? Seems to me dying is the worst case scenario when it comes to good health. But that is another question.

S-CHIP, Graeme Frost, Peach Care, and stuff like that

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