UP NOLAN CREEK: Healthy dreaming?
Sunday, 08 July 2012 by Wayne Carpenter
I have never seen such a firestorm of hyperbole by politicians and the media over the Supreme Court decision to uphold the basic precepts of the Affordable Health Care Act. Some politicians say the implementation of this act will solve all of our health care problems. Dream on. Others say it is the end of America, the destruction of freedom, and the most despicable act every perpetrated on the American public. Not true. One local congressman said "it was the greatest loss of individual freedom.....in his lifetime." Easy for him to say since Congress has the nation's best healthcare plan, paid for by us taxpayers, and I really doubt the plan denies anyone coverage because of "pre-exisiting" conditions. One radio personality even threatened to move to Costa Rica to protest his outrage over the assault on his liberty. (He'll be surprised to find the Costa Ricans have a highly respected health system that covers everyone, even cigar smokers.) A more realistic response is that so-called Obamacare is neither the end of the American dream nor the cure-all for what ails our health care system. It most definitely is not a socialist system. No socialist would ever want for-profit health insurance companies to be involved in health care.
Most of us agree that we have the highest quality doctors, nurses, and health care professionals anywhere. But we can also agree that medical costs are out of control, and millions of Americans still do not have access to health care, except through the emergency room. As anyone in health care will tell you, the emergency room is the most expensive place to meet routine health needs.
The Affordable Health Care Act won't fix all the problems. But it does bring more people in the system, which can only be good. Unfortunately, the new plan still leaves millions without coverage, and doesn't do enough to control escalating costs. It seems no one has a viable plan to address the increasing costs, and if such a plan were developed, vested interests would spend untold millions lobbying Congress to block its implementation because the current system is so profitable for them. Americans spend more per capita for health care than residents of any other country in the world. The US spends a higher portion of of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product, the value of all the goods and services produced) than any other nation, almost twice as much as the second-place Swiss. A decade ago the World Health Organization ranked 191 nations on key factors. Fifty percent on health, which includes life expectancy of all citizens and average life expectancy for various sub-groups, twenty-five percent of the rating on responsiveness, which includes speed of service and quality of amenities, and twenty-five percent on fairness of financial contributions for health care consumers. (Fairness of financial contribution measures a household's ability to pay for health care after factoring out the cost of providing food.) Overall, the US came in 37th behind France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Japan, Columbia, Costa Rica and several other nations with less financial resources. America is one of only two major developed countries in the world that doesn't provide some form of universal health coverage, the other being South Africa. In Texas one in four persons currently doesn't have health insurance. To our credit, our system ranked first in responsiveness and quality of facilities, but we are not even in the top twenty in physicians per 1,000 population or average life expectancy, and we have a higher infant mortality rate than most developed countries. One can site statistics to argue almost anything, but the bottom line is this: the United States has an expensive and inefficient system, which delivers excellent health care for many of us, but is increasingly unaffordable and doesn't provide basic service for millions of our fellow citizens. Our health care costs have doubled in the last decade and continuation of this trend will bankrupt this nation if fundamental changes are not made.
It would be a great day if our leaders actually sat down and worked through this dilemma without the hysterics, but that would be an entirely different type of "Dream Act."