By Carey Kriz
The elephant is in the room, and it is time that the political parties seeking to run the U.S. government start acting like they understand the issues of U.S. health care in 2008. First a couple of questions that we need to start asking: Will universal health insurance fix our health care system? The answer is easy: absolutely not. A bumper sticker approach to solving problems means identifying one big emotional issue and suggesting an obvious solution. For health care there a number of these, with the big story being the unfeeling administrator denying benefits to a patient with real needs. Ultimately, this story comes back to the failure of our insurance industry to be portable, to be with you throughout your lifetime and generally to be fair.
And yes, this is a great cause. But it is not the answer.
Will more doctors bring more health care to our communities? The answer to this one is also easy: absolutely not. The U.S. system of educating and branding physicians is arguably the best in the world. Yet we have an imbalance in knowledge and need to think about why our neighbors are getting so fat, or indulging in behaviors that are obviously bad for them. Do any of us understand that we are actually in charge of our bodies?
Will blockbuster science and new drugs cure disease? Dreaming is good for us, and we do have a number of major scientific advances that impact the world of health care – and how that health care can lead to improved longevity and a better quality of life. But science alone is not the answer here. We have a problem in health care that cuts across treatments, diagnosis and infrastructures.
So what will fix our health care system? For the answer to this question start asking your political leaders where all the money is going – and whether we have any idea of the cost/benefits of our investments. When we think of spending money on health care what we fail to also mention is that we spend more than anyone else in the world, that we have declining productivity in our quality of life indices, and are making a “business” out of something that comes close to being a survival requirement. Guess who pays the highest cost for drugs in the world? Yes: we do. Not your neighbors in Australia and Singapore – or Europe.
Imagine how stupid we would look as a society if we charged for the right to breathe air. Now imagine denying someone access to care because they slipped through the coverage cracks – or discriminating against them because they already had a disease. Now add to this reality that a ton of people were making money from this mess, including big investment funds, management, professionals and shareholders. Yes we have cancer and it has metastasized into every corner of the health system. The fix will not be pleasant and will definitely be painful. But it is a requirement and it will be hard on all of us.
So it’s time to put some real debate into health care and start looking at the elephant of big business, profits and motivation. Hiding from a problem, or misleading the public about how bad it is, will not solve it.
Carey Kriz is the author of The Patient Will See You Now (Rowman and Littlefield).