If I could change any one thing, I would…
Demand socialized medicine. That’s what it is, that’s what we should call it, and that is what we need.
OK, I’m being a bit dramatic with that headline. What I really should have written is “demand a single payer health care system”. But I had a “mad as hell” moment this weekend and while it hasn’t put me over the edge with our health care system – that happened a long time ago – it was enough to get me thinking about our need for real health care change.
It came from the Flu, which I thought might be pneumonia, and which inconveniently hit on a Saturday afternoon. This gave me two options: The emergency room’s day-long ordeal or the walk-in service at a local physician’s group. I could have tried making an appointment with a doctor on a Saturday afternoon, but there’s no chance in Hell I’d get one.
It’s just not cost-effective to have office hours at that time.
So I walked into the nicely decorated drop-in facility; waterfall in the corner, stone walls, very comforting although I was ready for death’s door. I was told to be ready for a wait – a long one. Did I really need to see the doctor?
Yes, I really did. So I settled in and waited. It felt like half a lifetime. Why such a long wait? Because there was one doctor on call.
Having one doctor on call during Flu season is nuts. But it is cost-effective.
And this is really what galls me: Why in the world should one’s care be subjected to “cost effectiveness?” I had a family member diagnosed with a severely clogged artery – frightening stuff – but couldn’t see the specialist – any specialist – for four days. I guess it’s not cost-effective to be available on Fridays, or weekends, or Mondays for that matter. I have other family members facing financial ruin with a long-term illness, and I watch rather helplessly as they rip through their retirement savings. It’s destroyed the quality of their lives. And isn’t this why we work and save so hard? So we can retire with contentment?
All this doesn’t even begin to consider the implications of insurance-driven medical decisions, insurance companies denying life-saving care, the millions who don’t even have coverage, or the ever-rising costs – even for the insured – of basic health care itself. Last year I spent 10% of my net pay on out-of-pocket medical expenses. And I’m lucky enough to have insurance.
As for my visit to the walk-in center: Raging fever and ready-to-drop sick, it was round trip just under five hours. But the topper: Even with insurance my prescription ran a cool sixty bucks. Rubbing salt in the wound was the pharmacy paperwork which showed that my insurance – for which I pay a hefty monthly sum – generously covered eighteen dollars of it.
This is truly insane.
The free market is a powerful entity. It works, sometimes with great elegance, for many situations. But must we be so fanatically devoted to the free market concept that it becomes the framework for every social program? What ideology do you know that satisfies every test, every time? Yet mention single payer health care and be prepared for the shouts of “socialism” and “big government” and “Sweden-sized taxes” (I’d say my $thousands per year for sometimes subpar care constitutes the worse form that taxes could ever take).
Even so, that knee-jerk fear over “socialized medicine” put out by “small government” folks and their insurance executives as a way to red-bait health care reformers may finally be losing its impact, and may even be backfiring. Ezra Klein over at The American Prospect breaks down a new poll from the Harvard School of Public Health nicely here. In essence, 45% of the respondents felt that “Socialized Medicine would improve health care”. And yes, that was the word used.
Truth is, a Single Payer system is not socialized medicine anyway. It’s a health care payment system, where providers are not employees of the government at all. I’m not an expert, but I found an excellent and accessible overview of the Single Payer approach here.
Honestly, it’s time we opened our minds and stopped relying on the mainstream media, soaked with advertising and pharmaceutical connections, and demand a government run, singe payer health care system. It’s the 21st century after all. It’s time to start living like it.
Update: After publishing this post I came across a terrific overview called “Mythbusting Canadian Health Care” which, well, busts some myths. An excellent read, take a look.