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Writer misled by health care zombie myths | LETTER TO THE EDITOR
To the editor:
In his recent letter to the editor, Thomas Green provided the readers of the Review with a virtual compendium of misinformation, falsehoods and ideologically blinkered zombie myths about U.S. healthcare that simply cannot go uncontested.
first, the writer infers that the Obama Administrationʼs recent health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), represents government encroachment on the sanctity of the market-based healthcare.
In point of fact, PPACA is a piecemeal and flawed piece of legislation that unfortunately represents the best that could be achieved in the face of systematic obstructionism on the part of the Republican Party.
Far from socialistic legislation, it was actually written by a former lobbyist for Anthem/WellPoint, a California health insurance company that was on the forefront of widespread insurance industry abuses such as recission, claims denials and zealous enforcement of pre-existing condition clauses in its policies.
While PPACA does indeed afford Americans some protections against the most egregious insurance industry abuses, and PPACA will allow an additional 30 million Americans to be able to receive some form of health insurance, there are still numerous problems with the legislation.
There are, for instance, no provisions for tort reform. Nor was there the establishment of a national formulary negotiated with the pharmaceutical industry — a major source of cost savings that was preemptively blocked by the advocates of “free” markets in healthcare. Itʼs still you vs. Pfizer (or GSK or Novartis...). Guess who wins?
In fact, meaningful cost containment was never part of the conversation even as the efficiencies of “the market” push us past 18 percent of GDP for this fatally flawed health care product. And of course, there is no provision for universal coverage.
The reason for the fundamental failure of market-based health care delivery is simply that itʼs the wrong model. Markets are great for producing, perfecting and distributing consumer goods like cars, TVs, toothbrushes and iPhones. But how can we even begin to compare that sort of economic activity with the terror of a cancer diagnosis or the heartbreak of a life-threatening illness in a child? Human lives and human health are not just another unit of production or profit center.
These and many other problems brought about by a market based health care system would be far more rationally dealt with by a comprehensive single-payer system like that found in many other OECD countries. Unlike the assertions to the contrary, almost all of these countries have better national health outcomes than the U.S. — often with less than half our GDP expenditure.
And ironically, single-payer systems, far from being “socialistic” often allow small community practices to flourish without the ever-changing bureaucratic manipulations of the health insurance industry. It also relieves businesses of the expense and headache of obtaining health insurance for employees and it affords the citizens of those countries the freedom to change jobs or locales without being bound by the constraints of the health insurance industry.
It is conservatively estimated that implementation of a single-payer system in the U.S. would produce $400 billion in annual savings and prevent 55,000 annual excess deaths that are currently attributable to the uninsured and the underinsured in our present market based “system.” Do you think that if over 100 wide-body jets crashed every year we would do something about it?
Secondly, as for the undying myth of American exceptionalism in health care, there are any number of countries and health care system assessment organizations that would beg to differ. The United States is ranked 37th in the World Health Organizationʼs assessment of health care delivery systems — right up there with Slovenia and Albania.
As for Europe and Cuba, their overall population outcomes clearly surpass ours.
And this assessment is not just the preserve of policy wonks and rating agencies. Travel abroad and ask anyone in other OECD countries what they think of U.S. healthcare and you will quickly learn that in many cases people are actually refusing to travel here for fear of having a health problem and being presented with a massive bill unless they buy expensive short-term insurance policies. Far from the envy of the world we are increasingly becoming an international healthcare laughingstock.
In truth, the only thing exceptional about U.S. healthcare is that it is exceptionally disorganized, exceptionally expensive, exceptionally wasteful, and in many cases exceptionally cruel.
But in conclusion I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Green when he asks you to think long and hard this November about who is most likely to help us get off the path we are on — a path of unrestrained costs and unnecessary suffering — and to join the rest of the civilized world by offering our citizens the fair, accessible, and yes, high-quality Universal Healthcare that every U.S. citizen deserves. If we are bold enough to take the necessary steps, we will see enormous increases in productivity, decreases in business costs, and most importantly, we will witness an upsurge in the health of our citizenry that might someday actually turn the myth of American healthcare exceptionalism into a reality.
KEN FABERT, MD