Sunday, August 23, 2009

A prescribed dose of reality

Health care3 I've made no secret of the fact that I support health care reform. I won't go into the apparent psychotic break with reality we're seeing from those who so strongly oppose a public option (at least not today); suffice it to say that the distortions and lies are becoming increasingly ludicrous, and if it weren't such an important subject, I would find them laughable. I think it would also be interesting one day to take a look into the mass hysteria and mob mentality that we're seeing at the moment. Really, how do we go from voluntary doctor-patient counseling about end-of-life decisions and living wills (I'm guessing the majority of people think that living wills are probably a pretty good idea, and in fact, here are a few who have supported the idea in the past: Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin. Go figure.) to death panels? That's quite a leap from reality to falsehood, but "certain people" have made it with a straight face. Yeah, I'm talking about you, Palin.

But no, I'll save the Liars and the Lies They Tell topic for another day. (I can think of a couple of people in real life--no one who comments here, of course--who fit that bill quite well, but I'll keep this on a public level...the public option, if you will!) Today I'll do some facts and figures, followed by a little bit of philosophizing. (Click on any picture to embiggen.)

Health care spending chart According to a University of California at Santa Cruz health care database, "...higher spending on health care does not necessarily prolong lives. In 2000, the United States spent more on health care than any other country in the world: an average of $4,500 per person. Switzerland was second highest, at $3,300 or 71% of the US. Nevertheless, average US life expectancy ranks 27th in the world, at 77 years. Many countries achieve higher life expectancy rates with significantly lower spending. The chart...shows the top 30 countries in the world ranked by life expectancy. The red line indicates per capita health expenditure (right axis), and shows that many countries outperform the US with approximately half the spending."

A study conducted by a Johns Hopkins professor in health policy and summarized in Medical News Today confirms these findings, and also finds these interesting statistics:

  • Health care spending accounted for 14.6% of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2002, a time when only two other nations--Switzerland and Germany--spent more than 10% of their GDP on health care
  • The United States has 2.9 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, compared with a median of 3.7 beds per 1,000 residents among the other nations examined
  • The United States had 2.4 physicians per 1,000 residents in 2001, compared with a median of 3.1 physicians per 1,000 residents among the other nations examined in 2002
  • The United States had 7.9 nurses per 1,000 residents in the United States in 2001, compared with a median of 8.9 nurses per 1,000 residents among the other nations examined in 2002
  • The United States has 12.8 CT scanners per one million U.S. residents, compared with a median of 13.3 scanners per one million residents among the other nations examined
  • The United States appears to have more magnetic resonance imaging machines per capita than many of the other nations examined, but the machines are used only 10 hours daily in the United States, compared with a median of 18 hours daily in other nations

According to the National Coalition on Health Care, the main reason that people are uninsured is because of the increasingly high cost of health insurance coverage; 62 percent of bankruptcies filed in 2007 were primarily due to medical expenses, and of those bankruptcies, almost 80 percent of those people had health insurance; about 1.5 million families lose their homes each year because of unaffordable medical costs; and that "without health care reform, small businesses will pay nearly $2.4 trillion dollars over the next ten years in health care costs for their workers, 178,000 small business jobs will be lost by 2018 as a result of health care costs, $834 billion in small business wages will be lost due to high health care costs over the next ten years, and small businesses will lose $52.1 billion in profits to high health care costs." See the full NCHC article here.

Health care A Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that nearly a quarter of our country's non-elderly uninsured are middle class; most of the middle class Americans with health insurance get it through their employers, and that has been greatly impacted by the recession; and that health insurance and medical care are becoming increasingly less affordable because costs have have skyrocketed...but wages have not.

Are you getting the picture? Many of us are one major illness away from losing our home and having to declare bankruptcy. For those who say "we can't afford it," I beg to differ. If we do not do something, and do it soon, health insurance will be beyond the reach of millions more than the almost 50 million people who do not have it now, and rising costs will force thousands of small businesses to close their doors. The writing is on the wall, Nation (as Colbert would say), and we can either get with the program or risk an even worse mess down the road--and it's closer than you think. Our system is antiquated and patently unfair, and we need take a tip from the rest of the civilized word and start taking care of our citizens. For anyone who says that they know of someone in England who had a horrible experience with their NHS, I'm willing to bet that there are a thousand others who are more than satisfied, and for everyone who says that they know someone in Canada who had to wait six months for an elective procedure, I'll bet there are a hundred in the US who were unable to afford to go to the doctor at all, or who take half of their prescribed dose of medication, or skip it entirely. It is on the verge of barbaric, and believe me, the rest of the developed world is astounded at our lack of compassion and care for all of our citizens.

Health care cartoon2 For anyone who says that a government option for health care is "socialist," I say that you have conveniently ignored numerous other government programs that are "socialistic" in nature--if by socialism you mean a redistribution of goods by a central government. What do you think our tax system is, for God's sake? We all pay the central government, which uses those taxes for the programs that they run. How many federally funded programs are there? As of June 2005, there were 1,607 of them. We can drop this "socialist" bullshit any day now, because it is an argument (I should say a non-argument...people just seem to like throwing the word around because it sounds scaaaaaary) that makes no sense whatsoever.

Some have suggested that it is up to our own society to take care of those who cannot afford insurance. Really? How is that working for us so far? Is our society taking care of those who are mentally ill and live on the streets? Is it taking care of those who are living in tent cities in some of our metropolitan areas? Is it taking care of the starving kid in Appalachia or the one in the ghettos of Chicago? We've all seen fundraisers for a kid who needs a kidney transplant, or leukemia, or one of dozens of life-threatening illnesses, and after several thousand dollars are raised at the pancake breakfast or the spaghetti supper, and that money is spent on treatments, what happens when the kid is hospitalized for a couple of weeks with a raging infection? Any idea of how much an organ transplant costs? It is one of the most ridiculous arguments I've heard to date, that we'll "take care of our own." We sure as hell haven't done it so far, so what magic wand is going to be waved to suddenly make us all dig deeper and start taking care of all of our people?

Roger Ebert (yes, the movie critic) wrote an excellent column in the Chicago Sun-Times in which he stated this:

I believe universal health care is, quite simply, right.

It is a moral imperative. I cannot enjoy health coverage and turn to my neighbor and tell him he doesn't deserve it. A nation is a mutual undertaking. In a democracy, we set out together to do what we believe is good for the commonwealth. That means voluntarily subjecting ourselves to the rule of law, taxation, military service, the guaranteeing of rights to minorities, and so on.

I agree with Mr. Ebert. It is indeed a moral imperative, and it is our duty as part of the greater good of our nation. That is the crux of the matter, but beyond that, if we are to hold our heads up in the international community, it is a necessity.

Health care cartoon I read something recently in which the author wrote that in the Civil Rights struggles of the 60's, it wasn't necessary to have the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Wallace agree on things. It was simply and obviously the right thing to do to treat all citizens with respect, decency, and equality, and if George Wallace didn't like it, too freakin' bad. (We still aren't there when it comes to gay rights, but that's an entry for another day.) I believe we are at the same crossroads right now when it comes to health care for all, and I stand with President Obama when he says, "One way or another, we're going to get this done."


  1. My folks had to declare bankruptcy based on the things that were not covered by their health insurance. So coverage is only part of the equation, but a very important on. The statistics were very interesting, quality if more important than quantity. Have a nice evening :o)

  2. "Have a nice evening." [shaking my head]

  3. Great post. I'll digest it later.

    But a quick anecdote that illustrates the disconnect that many people opposed to reform are suffering from. Last week my brother was in the hospital and wound up with a roommate who watched Glenn Beck and ranted on the other side of the curtain against Obama and socialized medicine. In later conversations (to the nurse assigned to guard him, given his questionable sanity) he mentioned that he had been on disability for FIFTEEN YEARS. I am so not making this up.

  4. Hi Beth,
    A recent survey showed that 77 percent of Americans want health care reform. The nutty tirades (euthanizing grandma, death panels and etc.) all grab headlines, but nothing can disguise the fact that our system is broken and most people want it fixed.

  5. If only all the naysayers to health care reform could actually read, we could just sit them down and make them read this post that is grounded in reality and based on facts, not lies and hysteria. Unfortuantely, I think that most of these people are beyond reason and too busy shouting that the wolf (Obama) is huffing and puffing outside the door to recognize that the damn house (our current health care system) is on fire.

  6. Sing it to the choir, babe.

    i bet money that all of those who do want this reform have insurance. I bet they have never gotten sick and stayed sick because even with medical insurance paid for by THEM they were unable to afford the doctors visit.

    i bet none of them have someone they love afflicted with a mental disease that has destroyed that persons life.

    i want the shouters and protesters to tell us about THEIR perfect life with insurance so we can find out why they judge everyone else.

  7. in the first sentence i meant to write all of those who do NOT want this reform have insurance.

  8. Even a native german man got very angry because there was a woman with a picture of Obama WITH A SWASTIKA painted on his face How many saw Barney Franks town hall? He says it like it is. Barney told her he was not going to talk to her because it would be like talking to a dining room table.

  9. I think it's a sad commentary on our times when people look to Limbaugh and Hannity and Beck and Palin and Gingrich for their opinions. These are all people who bend the truth and omit the facts to suit whichever side of the issue they think will get them the most press.
    Why can't people READ for themselves and think for themselves and speak for themselves and act for themselves, instead of relying on asshats to fill their minds and mouths with drivel?
    Just sayin'.

  10. Time to drop the bipartisan effort and ram it through!!!!

  11. I fully agree we need health care REFORM. I am also in full agreement the working poor, those who are trying to make it and cannot afford health care need and deserve help. What I cannot digest is handing out yet another benefit to those who contribute nothing to our society. The able bodied people who sit on their porches all day yakking on their $500 phones with their hand stuck out waiting for more. Of course these same people won't lose their homes or fall into bankruptcy because they are somehow exonerated. I agree we have a moral obligation to help others but don't they first have to at least make an effort, if they are able, to help themselves and not feel entitled?

  12. Another excellent post, Beth!

  13. I have to wonder how the Reform will actually decrease costs and still afford to provide excellent coverage for all Americans. It seems as though the doctors will have to take a pay cut during all of these changes which in my opinion will hurt the quality of care? So far the implications they have proposed only increase the price of health care which is the bottom line issue here. Unless they require everyone to enroll to spread the risk ultimately decreasing over all price, I just don't see how this will work. Do you have any insite or other information supporting either of these issues? Thanks!!

  14. As great as a REFORM sounds who is going to flip the bill? Unfortunately, the higher income and healthy are going to be the brunt of this increase and statistically these are typically the ones not insured in the first place. $940 billion dollar bill is what is being proposed, aren't we in enough debt? Medicare tax going from .9 to 2.35% and I don't know about you but seeing where the system is now, I don't even feel comfortable saying Medicare or Social Security will be there for my generation.

    So far the requirements the government has imposed to take effect 2014 are contributing to the issues and increasing price. The main issue that worries me is what happens when they require insurance companies to approve anyone who applies aka the "Pre-Existing" issues clause. This is allowing a person to be hurt or sick, call the carrier, get coverage right away, use it as long as they need it and cancel because they are better and no longer need coverage. What do you think that will do to cost??? INCREASE big time! At the same time there is talk about requiring people to have coverage but assessing a measly $95 fine for the year, that's not even a one month premium so of course this is going to hold no effect. So now we have no one paying into the system, high costs and claims for most members and one sad benefit structure.

    I realize there is a major issue here and cost of insurance is incredibly high but imposing outlandish requirements is not going to help. When is there going to be a focus on pharmaceutical companies charging an arm and a leg for a little pill? Or the doctor that prescribes because they get a "bonus?" or a 15 minute test in an MRI machine that costs $10000?! I have a better idea, let's focus on getting this country healthy and aware of medical expenses that are directly related to being an over weight, smoker that eats fast food everyday! We need to focus on a long term solution not a band aid.


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