Economy Can’t Recover Without Health Care Reform
As our nation begins a new era with this new president and redefined Congress, most of us are hoping that answers to the problems our nation faces will quickly emerge. Few of us are so naïve as to think there will be easy answers, or even a quick turnaround. But change can bring hope, and I doubt that, whatever side of the political aisle a person leans toward, many would deny that our nation faces significant problems. We all hope for a better future for our country.
It's no secret that a large part of the troubled economic situation is massive debt incurred by people with health problems, even those with health insurance. If all of this debt resulted in fantastic health outcomes, perhaps there would be some justification. However, according to The World Health Organization's (WHO) ranking of the world's health systems (in 2000, the last statistics available), the United State's global rank is 37 overall and 72 in health performance. Before I looked for the statistics, I was well aware that our ranking wasn't great, but I was shocked by the numbers. This ranking for our country of great brains and great resources is, in my opinion, unacceptable. It's stark evidence that our health care system is broken.
I've written about our health system on this site several times, but in "Back Page News: The Financial Burden of Healthcare in America," which I wrote in December of 2006, I discussed how I, along with my youngest son who has multiple health issues, try to cope with the cost of health care. It's hard. The expense has been overwhelming, even with insurance. Will this problem be resolved immediately? Obviously not.
However, I choose to believe that fresh ideas, tempered with the wisdom of historical perspective, will help us move forward in a positive manner. The economy in general must be fixed. I don't believe that we will really come out of this recession with healthy bank accounts, or even enough jobs for our workers, until our health system is on the road to recovery, whatever form that takes. The particular path needed to reform our health system will be determined by Republicans, Independents and Democrats working together for the good of the country, not by partisan ideology.
Some changes will come from new technology, such as the ability to make health records accessible throughout the system by digitizing them, thus saving money, time and even lives by eliminating bulky, paper-file transfers across different health networks.
Some improvement, I hope, will come for more traditional ideas such as getting back to family doctors and educating more geriatricians to care for the aging population. Because these kinds of physicians generally value quality of life over quantity and will continue to be in increasing demand, they need to be compensated as well as doctors who perform "procedures," such as surgeons. At this time, they are not, and we have far too few of them.
Our system now pays more money for procedures than it pays for care. These procedures are expensive. Worse, they often put frail elders at the mercy of doctors - most well-meaning, but some responding to pressure to make money - who want to do surgery or chemotherapy on someone who will soon die anyway, because that is what they are trained to do. An expensive, painful procedure often will put the elder through physical and psychic agony and can kill the person sooner than he or she would die if given pain management and loving care, which is generally more humane and less costly, overall.
Obviously, such care plans must be made separately, as each person is different. But we now live under a health system which rewards (even with intangibles such as respect from peers) specialists who perform the same awesome technical (and expensive) procedure on a frail, dying elder that they would on a young adult who likely has the chance of recovery. The wants and needs of the individual patient are often ignored.
If we are to come out of this health care emergency, many compromises will need to be made. But few would say an overhaul of the system isn't needed. Blame gets us nowhere. Living in the past gets us nowhere. Both political parties have intelligent, caring people who must work together to fix the problems we face, and make this country a healthy, thriving place to live and work with pride. Some of that pride will come when we see the health care ranking that our resourceful country earns, when compared on a global scale, climb toward the top where it belongs.