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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 8.27.09




Reality Check

We don’t have a health care ‘system’ at all

By Kevin Mulvey, PT, RN

As a dual qualified health care professional who has had the good fortune to travel through at least 20 countries, and work in two with comparable standards of living in most things, other than access to cost effective health care, I feel compelled to offer a reality check to some of the absurd, cliché-ridden diatribes promoted by those who oppose health care reform in the U.S.

The facts are really quite simple. U.S. clinical standards, when care is obtainable, are as high as most other Western countries. This is where any benefit to citizens begins and ends. If obtainable, it is not higher generally, more on par with other similar countries despite the "best in the world" claims by those who likely have never known anything different. However it is more than twice as expensive, with multi-level factors which lead to lesser clinical outcomes than any other Western country. 

Most of this relates to how every other country in the Western world has a government funded health care system. Is every other country in the Western world suffering from the sky falling when their citizens get high quality care in their time of need? They certainly are not, and although there is no claim to a perfect system by any of these countries, their life expectancies and health outcomes far exceed those who are the victims of the U.S. health care "system." 

Because it is not a "system" at all, but an avarice-driven means of extracting money from people in their times of need. 

Having worked in health care here and in Australia, I am continually amazed at what Americans are ready to accept in terms of access to health care: unbelievably high costs, and dictates from the insurance industry lackies as to what they can have as treatment — if they are fortunate enough to have health insurance, or a job which may provide some.

As a comparison, Australian health care is delivered from birth to death by a government funded system for all necessary health care. (No death panels either folks, strange but true!) There is also a private health insurance policy which can be taken out as elective and costs a family of five approximately $3,500 per year. The split is approximately 70/30, and you can choose to be seen as a “private patient” in a government hospital or elect to be a public patient. The difference is in some toiletries you receive and a free morning paper. However, if you are walking down the street and have a myocardial infarction or a stroke, or fall and fracture your femur, you are taken care of at no cost, not receiving crippling bills or threatening letters requiring you to re mortgage your home. There is no insurance company clerk, 500 miles away, calling you and telling you that you can’t have a service recommended by your health professional. Equally, there is no government bureaucrat intervening in the process at all. The level of government medical service exceeds the private sector hospitals, which I have worked for, but daily move critically ill patients to the government teaching hospitals, ICUs and rehab services because of the higher standards and lower costs.

Equally, it may be fine for some health care providers here to make claims that they did not take a vow of poverty, pity them in their having to cobble together a few more dollars for the next Jag. It may be sacred for hospital administrators to laughingly pat themselves on the back and tell the community how a health care palace will take care of all their needs, but drains their wallets when they can't pay! It may be patriotic to chant mindless fear-ridden clichés which have no basis in reality about how "socialized medicine," a ridiculous pejorative term in itself, is unAmerican and evil.

The reality: Government funded universal coverage works at half the cost, with far better outcomes in every other country in the Western world. There is no bureaucratic intervention like the private insurance companies do here. This is just patent nonsense designed to scare people who are not informed of the reality of the situation. Doctors elsewhere are well paid also; but the primary focus of medicine is not to maximize income, it is to provide high standard, accessible outcomes for citizens, with reasonable costs, spread throughout the community. And that means some limiting of costs to those providing the services rather than allowing flagrant gouging of vulnerable captive patients.

Get with the program people, the Earth is not flat, there are more things sacred in life than the wallets of those fighting reform. The U.S. is very good at many things, but affordable quality health care and access to it is not one of them.

Finally, this necessary change is all easy to fund from the public purse. Just shave half of the grossly obscene $711 billion spent on the military.

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Kevin Mulvey PT, RN is a Eugene resident.