A social solution to the health care dilemma

By Kampire Bahana (U-Wire)

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – The American health care system is sick. You may not care now because you are insured, either through the University or your parents. But if you’re not worried about how you’re going to pay for health care once you leave the cocoon of college life, let me tell you why you should be.

Everyone in America has a health care horror story or knows someone who does. If you’re one of the lucky ones, it’s a story of getting tangled in bureaucratic red tape, of phone calls and letters from insurance agents and collection agencies.

If you’re not so lucky, it’s about someone who is forced to ignore a slowly deteriorating medical condition because they were afraid that expensive tests would lead to even more expensive treatment that they won’t be able to afford. Since the Clintons’ failed attempt to reform health care in 1994, the stories are less about poor people who never had access to the system- a problem that remains unsolved – and more about people like you, me or your parents, who believe that as fully contributing members to the richest nation in the world, their health will be taken care of.

Some people have health insurance through their jobs, but find that their premiums continue to rise even as their plans cover less and less. Per capita health care costs have doubled in the past 13 years, and the number of uninsured has risen by 13 percent, to 50 million people, more than half of whom work at least part time.

The stories have become more horrific too, like that of the little boy in New York without access to dental care who died when an infection in his teeth reached his brain. Or the insured woman in Massachusetts who got turned away from an emergency room because it was full, to die at another hospital where they did not have the facilities to treat her heart attack.

There is even the story of the self-employed carpenter that Michael Moore highlights in his new documentary “Sicko,” who had to decide whether to reattach his ring finger for $12,000 or his middle finger for $60,000.

These are the stories in the most medically advanced country in the world, the one with the best-paid doctors in the world. The drug companies, surgeons, medical specialists, health insurance companies and private hospitals make multimillion dollar salaries and profits, with greater than 500,000 percent markups on prescription drugs. Yet, most Americans never see the benefits, as the system compensates for higher spending on advanced and expensive procedures by limiting the average person’s access to basic care.

How did it get this way? While most other developed nations, and many developing ones, have bowed to the inevitability of universal health coverage, American adoration for the privatesector has led to a history of failed attempts.

This has left a system where the American government pays indirectly or directly for half of the nation’s health care, through a patchwork of private insurers, for-profit hospitals and many other players who take away, rather than add value, a system where 50 million people go uninsured while many more others struggle to have their procedures approved, a system where people wait until the last minute to get care and then overwhelm the emergency rooms, where by law they cannot be turned away, a system that everyone, doctors and politicians, Republicans and Democrats, agrees is broken.

As more becomes known about funding public health the answer to the problem becomes clear: we need universal health care similar to the way it is practiced in Britain, France and Canada. It is commonly argued that switching to universal insurance will be expensive when in fact America already pays roughly twice as much per capita for health care, yet infant mortality here is significantly higher and life expectancy is lower than in the three countries mentioned above.

A recent survey estimated the excess costs of managing private insurance, like processing claims, and hiring “denial management specialists” to tell people why their illness is not covered by their policy, to be $98 billion a year. This is a lot more than the $77 billion that it would cost to cover every uninsured American. In addition, if the government negotiated bulk purchasing rates for drugs instead of allowing the pharmaceutical companies to set their own extortionate rates that would save another $66 billion.

But … but that’s socialism! Yes, and it has proven to be a more effective system at providing health care than capitalism. Evidence indicates that public insurance of the kind available in several European countries and others-such as Taiwan-achieves equal or better results at a much lower cost. This conclusion also applies to comparisons within the United States with programs such as Medicare or the Veterans Administration.

Politicians and drug companies may be unwilling to accept the inevitability of universal health care, but even big industry has succumbed to its virtues in the face of growing costs.Starbucks now spends more on health care than coffee beans. Company health costs, as a whole, are at about the same level as corporate profits.

In a globalized world where U.S. businesses are competing with low-wage countries like China, this is quickly becoming unacceptable. In fact, Canada’s universal health care has been an incentive for U.S. companies to set up businesses and create jobs in Canada.

Pharmaceutical and insurance lobbyists are among the most influential on Capitol Hill, and it is to them we owe the failure of Clinton’s 1994 health care reform. Presidential candidates are unwilling to face opposition in order to overhaul the broken system. Meanwhile, health care costs account for 50 percent of personal bankruptcies.

Because politicians are too willing to compromise financial gains for health concerns, the problems inherent in the U.S. system of health care are literally killing people. And if I ever have to choose between reconnective surgery for my middle finger versus my ring finger, I would choose to have my middle finger sewn back on so I can give U.S. senators a visual aid as to just how I feel about America’s health care system today.