Monday, January 12, 2009

Curing America's Ills: Is Universal Healthcare the answer?

When I first arrived in America, I was gung ho about the American system of health care.

Private health insurance seemed like a sensible enough idea - despite universal healthcare in Britain, more and more people were turning 'private' anyway, so why not just roll out the system across the entire country?

Likewise, my wife and I had a great experience with the birth of our baby, staying in a wonderful hospital and getting the level of care we couldn't have dreamed of on the NHS.

However... As time goes by, I'm starting to see some serious flaws with the health care business.

The American system of private health care is overly complex, overly beauracratic and wildly inflexible. I'm not suggesting we roll out universal health care in America, but I think it's time Republicans and Conservatives listened to the facts and stopped trying to tell everybody that the health care system is fine as it is, 'cos it ain't.

Health care and pharmaceuticals are the largest money making operations in America. They dwarf the oil companies and represent something astonishing, like 20% of the country's GDP.

The problem? Americans are getting ripped off.

An excellent example of this is in regards to drugs. For some reason, US citizens pay far more for prescription and generic drugs than people living in neighbouring Canada or Mexico - sometimes as much as 10 times as much.

In Canada, where we can at least be confident that the drugs are the same ones we get in America, there's no justifiable reason for this. More and more Americans are buying drugs from Canadian 'online pharmacies' simply because the cost of getting prescriptions filled in America is criminal.

The pharmaceutical companies are in cahoots with the insurance companies and have jacked up the price of American drugs as high as they can. It's extortion, plain and simple. The typical flag-wavers for the pharma industry, the Republicans, are promoting the very opposite of the 'free market' that conservatives supposedly support.

The second rip off is health insurance itself. This is partly the fault of profiteering insurance companies, who have been jacking up the price of insurance year after year, far above the rate of inflation (one year, it was as much as 25%.) In addition, they're slowly whittling away the benefits this insurance gives, meaning that Americans pay more and get less.

But another contributing factor is America's de facto universal health care. Even if you don't have health insurance, you can still walk into a hospital and receive thousands of dollars worth of treatment - it's mandated by state law across America. The cost of that 'free' treatment is swallowed up by the hospital, which dutifully passes it onto the only people who can mediate the cost - the poor, ignorant schlubs who actually pay for their medical insurance.

Again, Republicans are against the concept of universal healthcare for people who can't afford it, failing to realise that this system already exists and they're already paying above the odds for it.

Say what you will about the inefficiencies of government beauracracy, but it'd be a damn sight cheaper for working and middle class people if the taxpayer picked up the burden of America's clandestine 'free' health care system, rather than the people who pay for it via their overpriced health insurance premiums.

The final complaint about America's health care system is simply that it's cruel, inflexible and twisted.

You may only go to doctors who accept your health insurance program. If you go to an 'outside' providor, you will be liable for thousands of dollars worth of bills. Often, you are not told who is 'in' or 'out' of your program until after the fact.

Health insurance providors reserve the right to retroactively refuse to cover certain treatments you receive. Rode in an ambulance? If they decide you should have taken a cab, expect a bill for $3,000. Had an MRI? It's entirely within their rights to refuse to pay for it. It's like walking into a restuarant and being expected to order a three course meal without being told how much it costs in advance.

If health care is a 'business' and patients are 'customers,' you would expect that the same rules of business should apply as they do in every other consumer industry on Earth.

Maybe private health care knows it's days are numbered - that's why they are ripping the consumer off for as much as they can while they can; more and more each year.

Premiums cost more. Coverage offers less. Drugs are more expensive. More and more 'nonessential' costs are being shifted to the patient (which is why more and more of them are declaring bankruptcy because of medical costs.)

Like a greedy vampire, the American health care system is sucking their consumer base for more and more each month - willfully ignorant to the fact that sooner or later, they'll suck them dry and kill their only source of nutrition.

I was against the idea of universal health care when I arrived in America, but a year and a half of witnessing how badly run the health care system is has convinced me that it might not be so bad after all.


Little rambling Angel. said...

Say what you want about the NHS but at least you will get what you need, it just depends on how urgently you need it.

One Salient Oversight said...

No Healthcare system is perfect.

However, some are much better than others.

Nowhere in the world is healthcare completely nationalised. All forms of healthcare are a mix of government and private industry.

In the US, the mix is tilted greatly towards private industry.

At the same time, the cost of health care in the US represents some 15% of GDP. Nations which have less private and more government healthcare pay around 8-10% of GDP and manage to have the same health outcomes as the US (if not better).

America could save up to 5% of its GDP by introducing a universal health care system like the British NHS.

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