Why I Support Health Care Reform
One advantage of blogging is that I can share my ideas, directly, with people who find them interesting, provocative or otherwise read-worthy. So for those who are curious, here is my general view on health care reform (HCR) by any name, in 3 points:
First, we need it. The U.S. health care system doesn’t work. It doesn’t serve doctors. Good physicians are few and far between in some geographical regions, in primary care and in needed specialties (like oncology and geriatrics). It doesn’t serve people who might be patients, except if they happen to work for a generous employer that offers a good plan (few do), they are rich enough so they might spend thousands each year out-of-pocket and out-of-network, or they are most fortunate of all, having no serious medical problems to contend with or pay for.
Second, although I wholeheartedly support the Affordable Care Act, because it’s a step in the right direction, I don’t think the legislation goes far enough. We need a simpler, single-payer solution, as in a national health care program, Medicare-style, for all. Why? Because the quasi-plan for state-based exchanges, each with competing offerings and not necessarily interpretable terms of coverage, is too complicated. There’s no reason to think a free market operating at the state level would match the public’s or many individuals’ medical needs. As long as each provider is trying to make a buck, or a billion, it won’t put patients’ access to good care first. Besides, there’ll be administrative costs embedded in each exchange that we could live better without. As for private insurers, well, I couldn’t care less about the well-being of those companies or their executives’ incomes.
Profit is not what medical care is about, or should be about. What we need is a simple, national health plan, Europe-style, available to everyone, with minimal paperwork and, yes, limits to care.
Third point – on rationing.
Some of my readers may wonder how I, who support some costly components of good medical care, like providing breast cancer screening for middle-aged women and sometimes giving expensive drugs to people with illness, favor health care reform. New cancer meds cost around $100,000 year, more or less, as do innovative treatments for cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. I don’t think the sane solution is abandoning expensive but life-saving and quality-of-life-improving treatments.
The hardest part of this debate and what’s so rarely discussed is the appropriate limits of medical treatment, not based on costs – which we can certainly afford if we pull back on administrative expenses of health care and insurers’ huge profits – but on factors like prognosis and age. So, for example, maybe a 45 year old man should get a liver transplant ahead of an 80 year old man. Screening for breast cancer, if it is valuable as I think it is, should perhaps be limited to younger women, maybe those less than 70 or 75, based on the potential for life-years saved. Maybe we shouldn’t assign ICU beds to individuals who are over 85, or 95, or 100 years old.
The real issue in HCR, if you ask me, is who would decide on these kinds of questions. That conversation’s barely begun, and I would like to participate in that…
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is busy doing its thing, sorting out whether the Affordable Care Act is constitutional or not. I’m glad they’re on the case, so that they might find that it stands and we can move on and forward.
#Obamacare is right –
Thank you first of all for bringing up the moral argument. There’s something seriously wrong with a system where we’re a diagnosis away from financial ruin. It can happen to every single one of us. I know someone who used to pull down six figures, then her husband’s death, her major illness & loss of her job reduced her to what she calls a character in a Dickens novel, fighting to get on welfare. I wish President Obama would remind us how his mom fought with insurance companies when she was dying of cancer. The one thing that scares me about HCR is I’m not sure I trust the government to be less intrusive of the doctor-patient relationship than the insurance companies are. Doctors and patients need to speak up to make sure that we’re not just cogs in a different wheel. The three points you raised are excellent places to start, particularly on making the tough decisions with regard to resources. Looking at age & prognosis makes a lot of sense. Thank you for this thoughtful post.
Thanks for writing here. What’s curious is how few are willing to do so.
Some journalists I know have mentioned they can’t even tweet a post like this because it’s “partisan.” But they might, comfortably, share or comment on a post on over-screening, or paying primary care docs more $$, or increasing patients’ access to data – all of which involve viewpoints, IMO.