Sunday, August 17, 2008

Health Care is Killing America, Conclusion

So what are America’s options to the current system, which is headed for a critical mass, along with—potentially—the nations itself? First, remove the negative rhetoric. Political and economic interests opposed to revamping a system that is clearly headed toward a meltdown can no longer be afforded the power to control the language of the issue. Contrary to popular opinion and patriotic tradition, “socialized medicine” is not a bad word or phrase. Whether people want to believe it or not, we already have mechanisms in place that, if are not socialized in function, and doing a damn good imitation of socialism. The federal and state governments have been directly involved with the medical care of soldiers, veterans, legislators, children, the aged, and handicapped for decades in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. The free market system cannot solve every problem, and it obviously can’t solve this particular problem…if it could, it wouldn't be a problem. A system of universal health care coverage is needed, and its time ideologues faced facts, both federal and state governments are not going to get out of spending something on it. Furthermore, there is no “perfect system” for administering this. Every valiant attempted system that currently exists in the world has some bugs, some issues that makes users less-than happy. Is this an endorsement of a socialist system-based solution, not at all. But one thing is for certain…what we in place have is not working, and it is imperative that a solution be not only found but implemented soon…no matter how ideological distasteful it may be. There is simply no reason for not having a system of affordable universal health care; most polls show that the people want it, many professionals in the health care system want it (an Internet search for organizations supporting universal health care will bring up a plethora of such organizations, both professional and grassroots), and the economy demands it.
Those opposed to any kind of universal health care in America that isn’t founded on solely free-market principles typically cite the long waits for service under “socialized medicine,” systems such as those in Canada and the United Kingdom. I’ve spent many hours in online chat rooms based in those countries, and the conversations would always invariably become political in nature. And since this issue has been a personal crusade for me, I would often ask individuals in those (and other) countries would they trade health care systems with America if given the chance…the answer was always an unequivocal “no!” To them, the inconvenience of a wait is a tolerable trade off for the surety and comfort of not having to struggle with illness, while at the same time trying to figure out how to pay for treatment without going into financial ruin. And it’s a safe bet that opponents of some kind of nationalized health care coverage haven’t ventured out of their ivory-tower or think-tank offices to hospitals in poor urban areas. For many, the emergency room is the personal-physician-of-last-resort where the uninsured go, often to receive treatment for chronic conditions that have progressed because of the hard choice of medical care or material necessity. Unless one of these unfortunates walk in with a bullet wound, a knife sticking out of their heads, or a severed limb hanging on by a single shard of loose skin, there is a wait for service!
We should also look into taking some of the socioeconomic glamour out of the medical profession, and bring a back-to-basics approach back to medicine. Restructuring of the medical profession in America is long overdue. Believe it or not, the medical field wasn’t a vocation where individuals were seeking the social prestige and relative financial security of being a doctor. It was one a purely humanitarian endeavor, staffed by those seeking to alleviate human suffering. If one is expand their outlook and chance stepping outside the limiting mindset of a “realist,” it seem almost unethical to profit from someone else’s misery. In the UK, doctors are civil servants, a position that still afford relative financial security, but without the detraction of social status, or the specter of possible blackballing due to instances of malpractice. It’s high time we think of making doctors government employees. It would weed out the intent of those seeking to become physicians for the purpose of helping others, as opposed to those looking to inflate their egos, as well as their pockets as the sole motivation. Additionally, the division of labor among medical practitioners can be divided along lines based on the severity of the affliction. A well-experienced nurse could just as easily diagnose a cold and prescribe bed rest as easily as well-practiced doctor. The same could be said for nursing assistants and others.
The linchpin in the health care crisis, the complex bird's nest of administration each insurer uses to process payments and patient information, could be reduced significantly. There could be a centralized database used by all health care providers, where each would input all of the information about their patients. All insurers in turn, would be required to access this database in order to acquire the information needed to process payment (and other necessary) information; this would be a huge step toward creating a uniform system of payouts.
In the area of drug prescription costs, we should consider eliminating drug patents. The idea is that with many drug companies competing for a market share of a universally produced drug, we wouldn’t have so few of them charging so much in an effort to recover the money invested in developing these drugs (a chief cost-booster in overall purchase price of prescription drugs). Also, advertising (except directly to medical professionals) and promoting drugs in questionable ways should be illegal. This would mean no perks or bonuses for doctors and/or medical centers willing to prescribe a certain drug manufacturers drugs exclusively to their patients. This would level the playing field of the market and lower prices via fair competition.
Legally, it is a given that the high numbers of malpractice suits must be curbed. Under a revamped system, the merit of all lawsuits could be subject to an evidentiary hearing, in much the same way as impending criminal proceedings. Those wishing to file a lawsuit would have to have them heard before either a judge or an impartial board of some kind so that people whose fingernails were chipped during the removal of a cuticle are summarily dismissed from taking such frivolity into a courtroom.
Finally, a person should be allowed to be relived from the discomfort of a slow, agonizing, and—if artificial means of keeping them alive are employed—costly death. The final choice a person can make should not be subject to the legislative whims of someone bringing their personal religious beliefs into the realm of government. Although I am not intimately familiar with the process of artificially maintaining the life of a person who is essentially beyond hopes of resuscitation or recovery, I have to imagine that it is a costly endeavor. And those brave souls willing to either spare themselves the dishonor of an ignominious passing or their families the burden of having to make the fateful decision to terminate treatment should be allowed to do so. This report is by no means meant to be the end-all-be-all of what can be done to halt the current crisis in the health care system. Nor should it be considered a comprehensive list of possible solutions. However, it should be taken as a template of ideas to bring attention to something that could stop health care’s killing of America.

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