Thursday, June 19, 2008

What To Do About The High Cost Of Health Care in America?

Whether you believe that health care is a basic human right or not, we probably all agree that something has to be done about the high cost of health care. My 82 year old mother-in-law was recently admitted to the hospital for four days. She was being treated for breathing issues and swelling in her legs. The hospital bill( without doctor charges) came to $35,000 . Luckily she has decent medical insurance to cover the majority of these costs, however my eyes still popped out of my head when I saw the bill. Perhaps we should look at the Canadian System where the government pays for the medical care of all it’s citizens. I recently read an article written by James Clancy and David Kiley discussing the pros and cons state paid medical care. You can review their comments below.

Pro’s for a System Like The Canadian Health Care System:
1. All Americans would have health insurance. This is the right thing to do because it reflects and promotes core values and notions of citizenship: equality, compassion, and social solidarity. Sickness doesn’t discriminate. Neither should health care.
2. Health would improve. On almost every critical measure (life expectancy, infant mortality, etc.), Canada rates are higher than the U.S .
3. It would cost less. Canada spends 9.8% of GDP on health care, while the U.S. spends more than 15%. A single-payer system is the less expensive way to go.
4. Patients would have more choice. In Canada, patients can choose whatever doctor, specialist, and hospital they want. Treatment decisions are left to patients and their doctors. No insurance companies meddle in our choices.
5. Quality of service would improve. In Canada, health providers never have to choose between their wealth and a patient’s health. Our system forbids that choice. The vast majority of Canadians are highly satisfied with the quality of care they receive. In Canada, patients rarely sue physicians.
6. It would reduce the bureaucracy. Patients in Canada show their health card and get care. Health providers bill the government directly and get paid. It’s that simple.
7. Fewer Americans would go bankrupt because of health-care costs. This is a major problem for many U.S. families. It rarely happens in Canada.
8. It would benefit business. Companies in Canada have a competitive advantage because they don’t have to provide basic health-care coverage for their workers.
9. It would diminish labor strife. Health care is incidental in labor negotiations in Canada. It’s a large and growing pitfall in contract negotiations in the U.S.
10. It would serve democracy. Most Americans want major, not incremental, health-care reform. Many Americans support a single-payer system. It is about responding to the wishes of the people.

Con’s of the Canadian System
It’s not that I think Canada’s national health-care system is a bad one. But I don’t think we should lift any one country’s health-care system to replace the one in the U.S. that is so damaged and dysfunctional.
Canada’s system is not without its detractors. The complaints range from long waiting times to dramatic inconsistencies of care depending on the province one lives in. There are so many caffeinated critics of changing to “socialized medicine” in the U.S. that, even if the system we convert to isn’t actual socialized medicine, Canada’s well-chronicled complaints would provide ammunition for the status quo crowd.
Instead, a new Administration in Washington should put together a bipartisan commission to study, with a deadline, the systems around the world that spend less on health care than the U.S. but get better results. In the end, there would be a “best of all worlds” solution that both major political parties would have played a part in building.
The biggest complaint, and often the myth, of nationalized systems is that everyone has inordinate waiting times for surgeries and treatments. In some countries, this has held true. At one point in Canada, residents of Saskatchewan waited two years for an MRI. But in Japan, there is virtually no waiting. In Germany, wait times for surgeries can be a few weeks, just like in the U.S. In Britain today, hip and knee replacements happen within three months of the asking. That’s faster than I was able to get one in the U.S.
The U.S. system needs four major overhauls, and we should cherry-pick from Britain, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Taiwan, to name a few, to find the right structure for each fix.
1. Medical insurance must convert to a nonprofit enterprise.
2. Prices for medical procedures and drugs must be negotiated each year, and fixed at one price by the government, insurance companies, and health-care providers.
3. Medical malpractice awards must be limited and set the same way drug and treatment costs are, rather than battled out in court one by one.
4. Medical records and billing must convert to “smart cards” to spare patients unconscionable administrative costs and paperwork.
It will take leadership and courage in Washington to stand up to special interests like trial lawyers and global drug companies and medical-device makers who are invested in the skyrocketing costs of U.S. health care as a way of subsidizing the sounder, fairer systems around the world.

Whether we adopt the Canadian system or not, the writers above make some very valid points. If we get rid of special interest profiteers and make medical insurance non-profit, while paying hospitals and doctors fair rates, we would all be better off.

Photo by: Chandra Marsono

1 comment:

Lauri Ann said...

This is a pretty good article. I wish someone would come up with an answer, but looking to Canada isn't it. Been there, done that. And this "free" health care costs 50% of their take home pay. I know the taxes go for other things as well, but they used to take 50% of my husband's check plus we paid a federal and province tax on everything we bought. So much for "free" healthcare, and it's lousy.LOL