Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Health of American Healthcare

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Last Friday I had the most unpleasant experience of having to go to a hospital emergency room. I'm sure many of you have spent long hours in these Twilight-Zone places for one reason or another. We were supposed to go camping for the weekend. I'd had a nagging backache for several weeks and called my doctor's office to set up an appointment for the following week, but my doctor wanted me to come in the next day.

So, at 4pm on a Friday my doctor says I have two things going on, a back spasm and something internal on the right side, and that I really need an ultrasound to make sure nothing is about to um, burst??!!?? She didn't want me to go camping and told me to go immediately to the ER, which I did.

After FOUR HOURS of waiting I finally saw a doctor who agreed to order an ultrasound and a morphine shot for the back pain.

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Another HOUR LATER, I had had enough. I still had been given no pain meds, had no exam, and was freezing on a too-short exam table in one of those pathetic thin gowns. I hadn't eaten in six hours. I told my husband I wanted to go home. I finished dressing just as an orderly showed up to take me for my ultrasound. And suddenly the doctor was there too, telling me not to leave. So I undressed again and went for my test.

Yet ANOTHER HOUR LATER, back in the exam room, I waited for the test results and the actual exam. Finally, at 11pm (6.5 HOURS AFTER ARRIVING) the doctor came in, and told me I had cysts on both ovaries, but I could go home. Another 30 minutes, and we finally got out of there.

SEVEN HOURS!!!! Anyway, my point in telling you this icky story is that I am one of the LUCKY ones who have good insurance. And I still got lousy care. Many of the people in the waiting room were there because they had NO insurance, meaning no one else will treat them.

I have the greatest respect for the people that do this work, they work under terrible conditions, with so much pressure, people screaming and oozing at them, yet they stay professional and do this tough job.

I also agree with Dr. Susanne King that health care will be a major issue in the upcoming election. Please read on:

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Awaiting Health Care Proposals
By Susanne L. King

Thursday, May 10, 2007

HEALTH CARE reform is one of the hot topics for the 2008 presidential campaign. Forty seven million people are uninsured, and many millions more underinsured, in the United States. Health care costs consume 16 percent of the national gross domestic product, $1.9 trillion annually, and are projected to climb to $4 trillion by 2015. So where do the presidential candidates stand on this very important issue, at this time?

Only two candidates have made specific proposals, and they are Democrats. Sen. John Edwards has presented a plan which would require everyone to have coverage, and would give people the choice of either enrolling in a government plan, or opting for private insurance. The problem with his plan is that the insurance companies would still play an important role in our health care financing system.

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, along with 68 other representatives, is co-sponsoring health care reform legislation (HR 676), calling for a national health plan which would be administered by the government. Private insurance companies would be eliminated as administrators of health care. Everyone would have insurance. As Kucinich has stated, "We have public education in America, we have a Social Security program, there are already millions of Americans who are participating in Medicare. Government builds highways and roads and water systems and sewer systems and airports."

The remainder of the presidential candidates have only offered political rhetoric. Sen. Hillary Clinton has been down the health care reform road before, in 1994. She says we need to control and decrease costs, and improve quality within the existing system, but that we shouldn't have to put any new money into a system that doesn't work.

Sen. Barack Obama says we should provide subsidies for those who can't afford group rates, we should control costs, and we should provide catastrophic insurance to help families avoid bankruptcies (50 percent of bankruptcies are a result of medical bills).

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On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain thinks we have to reform America's entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Mitt Romney is not speaking much these days about the plan he helped initiate in Massachusetts to try to provide universal coverage, as he talks with conservative Republicans. However, he believes in market reforms, not government programs.

Rudy Guiliani also believes in privatizing health care insurance, saying, "...if the government keeps supporting the health care industry, it would just crush us."

Sen. Edward Kennedy is not a presidential candidate, but he and Rep. John Dingell recently introduced legislation to extend Medicare to all Americans, from birth to the end of life. This would be voluntary, and would allow people to remain in their employer-sponsored plans or other private insurance, if they so chose.

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The Kennedy-Dingell bill, as well as Edward's proposal, would allow the private insurance companies to continue to play a significant role in health care administration. And that is the problem with our health care system in the United States today. When private insurance companies are the administrators of health care financing, they insure healthy workers and leave the chronically ill and elderly under the care of government programs. Their goals are profit-focused, not patient-focused. Administrative costs consume 31 percent of U.S. health spending, most of it unnecessary, since much of it goes toward CEO salaries, shareholder profits, and marketing. As long as insurance companies are in charge, health care costs will continue to spiral out of control.

The majority of Americans say that the federal government should guarantee health insurance to every American. It is time to begin the health care debate for the upcoming presidential election. It is time for that debate to focus on the facts — that our health care system costs more and delivers less, to fewer of its people, than any other industrialized country in the world. (All of these other countries have national health plans).

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It is time for Americans to insist that health care is right, not a privilege, and to vote for a presidential candidate in the next election who will support the national health care program that the people want.

Susanne L. King, M.D., is a Lenox practitioner.


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