(The following was published in the Newsleader on August 7, 2009)
Health care reform will prove to be one of the most difficult programs for our government. There are embedded traditions and habits that will not be fixed without pain. This essay will not offer all the answers but will pose some very serious questions.
Question number one is why do we need reform? To me this is obvious. It, the medical industry, costs too much and because of the cost it is not sustainable for the future. I have been asked, "What is it supposed to cost?" My only answer is that the cost must be so reasonable that the consumer of the product can and will pay. An example of this ridiculous cost is my mother-in-law's final days. She was hospitalized for three days. During this stay she was given no treatment and wasn't even fed. She received a damp sponge to keep her mouth moist. That was it. The bill was $38,000.00. I attempted to learn how this bill could possibly be justified. I was told that all of the bill would be paid by Medicare and her private insurance so why should I even care? After a great deal of effort I finally was told that many of their patients pay nothing and this is how they help pay for those. This appears to be common practice.
I know of another situation where a young man who without any health care insurance suffered a catastrophic condition. His care now costs over $300,000.00 per year. He is also now totally disabled and cannot work. Even if he had insurance, his co-pays would be $60,000.00 per year. Where is that supposed to come from? We the taxpayers are paying for his care through Medicare. He incidentally could not even buy health care insurance prior to his sudden illness because of high blood pressure. That is one of those famous and pesky preexisting conditions you have heard so much about.
The second issue which I believe is very important is the cost to the medical profession of malpractice insurance. Any reform of our health care must include tort reform as well. Of course Congress is made up of lawyers so what do you suppose are the chances of this reform? Malpractice judgments are too much like jackpots in the lottery. Medical people must be liable for their mistakes but there has to be some common sense involved. If the plaintiff lost his case and was liable for the court costs and a money judgment, don't you think that might have some cooling effect on the lawsuits?
Here is another controversial issue. I think it is unrealistic for young doctors coming out of school to expect to make incomes in six and seven figures. I suspect that ours is the only country where that is even possible. By the same token, I believe the cost of medical school is ridiculous. Young medical people coming out of school should not be facing huge debt for their education.
How about this question? Why does the same medication manufactured by the same company cost less in Canada and Mexico than it does here? Is it because our government is allowing the drug companies to charge more here? Does that mean that we, through our purchases, are subsidizing the medical cost for these other countries?
Some things are clear. We are not going to allow people just to die from lack of available medical care. There will continue to be provisions made for the uninsured and the poorer among us, but at what cost? I have been trying to learn what is in the current bill that the President is trying to get passed. I cannot seem to get the answers. I honestly don't think most in Congress know either. That should be concerning to us all.
This also is clear. The goose that laid the golden egg is dead. Reform is going to happen. We can only hope the change will be for the better and not plunge us into total bankruptcy. Ultimately we the people must decide the direction this reform will take. Stay informed and stay involved.
Ron Scarbro July 24, 2009
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