Throughout this series, I’ve documented just some of the big, elephantS in the health care room that truly concern me as a physician, patient, son, brother, citizen, and person. I’ve suggested abstract and theoretical policy ideas for how they might improve things, while providing very little practical information on how they might be implemented (tax hikes, law changes, policy changes). Because I’m skeptical that any of them would ever happen in today’s health care environment.
We need a single-payer for all the reasons I’ve stated in the previous post. But we need a single-payer even more to provide some sort of direction in this damn train wreck of a health care non-system in America. Pick almost any issue I’ve mentioned–or haven’t–that concerns you, and ask yourself if you think it’ll go anywhere without some sort of organized plan or director at the helm.
As I said at the beginning, the goal of a country’s health care system–and note, we talk about a country’s health care system, because the whole country’s population is affected by it–should be to make its citizens the healthiest they can be. Right now we have a system that maximizes profit; this coinflip sometimes comes out with also optimal healthiness, but often it couldn’t care less if it makes its patients healthy. Case in point: the Hepatitis C outbreak in Nevada at a colonoscopy center, where 40,000 people may have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV because staff were re-using syringes to save money. Or the woman who finally sued and beat the pants off Blue Shield of California because they dropped her coverage when she started chemo for her breast cancer. (Sick people cost money!)
We currently have a system where each health care player is trying to pull the system in a different direction, and it really leads us to gettiing nowhere, fast. The private health insurance companies certainly have no interest in bigger national goals, since they for the most part don’t have huge national markets. 30% of people change health insurance each year (no surprise when people change employers so often these days). So it’s no wonder that the HMOs aren’t interested in having comprehensive preventative care or an electronic medical record: long-term benefits of long-term programs aren’t ever seen by these companies–their patients have gone to another HMO!
There are a ton of perverse incentives in our current health care system, and at least in health care, it’s worse for all of us. Hopsitals currently advertise that they have the best heart centers, the fastest ERs, etc.–hoping that they can make more money and often just keep themselves open (rightly so: what good is a closed hospital to its community)? So hospitals have invested heavily in profit-making centers–heart centers, new scanners, etc–while providing fewer resources to other more broadly-useful services like primary care. But since there’s no one at the helm analyzing the data saying, “Wow, this community could really use a new rehab unit, since it has a very high number of returning Iraq war vets,” no hospital has any reason to build a rehab unit–unless they can make it profitable. Again, money/profit is a top priority, not health care needs.
And when hospitals aren’t able to compete, they close. And hospitals over the past 30 years have typically closed in the poorest neighborhoods (which often have the sickest patients). So then these patients are now without a hospital and without a doctor. Which eventually makes it worse for all of us.
People Want Reform.
Look, take a gander at any recent poll on health care, and you’ll see that people recognize that this system is in trouble. Whether it uses the words “single-payer” or “national health care system” or “significant change,” significant change is going to happen. It’s just what kind of change. And as I’ve said before, if we don’t take an active role as the nation’s health care providers saying what we think is best for Americans’ health, some system worse than what we can even imagine will fall into place.
It’s not just the uninsured that are voting in these polls–it’s the insured, too. And I believe for people with insurance to put their faith in a new system, it has to offer them something better than what they’ve currently got. And that’s why I’ve made the case for single-payer: it would provide some level of leadership and direction for our health care system, and, because of that, I believe would drastically improve our health care system.
Why Would It Be Better
- Better health service, policy, and epidemiological research. We could use some nationalized system to collect anonymous data to see how people do with condition X or treatment Y. Currently a lot of this data is confined to the Medicare or VA populations, which are often not good representations of the entire populations.
- Doctors would have more time with patients. Currently so much time is spent with paperwork that doctors spend less time with patients, and have less time to keep up current data and research in the journals.
- All the reasons stated above, including people never going without health insurance. I find it interesting that we can be frustrated with Medicare’s “never events” at an institutional level, but don’t apply that same perspective to individual patients. In a perfect world, should no one at a hospital fall and break their hip? Sure, but it’ll happen, no matter how hard we try to stop it. Similarly, should people never get sick when they’re uninsured? Sure, but it’s going to happen, and should they be forever punished for it? I don’t think so.
Single-Payer Won’t Solve Everything
Throughout this series, I’ve presented a number of concerns for this health care system, without really mentioning “single-payer” as a solution, because it alone is not. Health care financing alone will not solve all the problems of health care in this country, but it will be a big step in the right direction. With a single-payer system there would motivation to fix the health care system, as we would have a publicly-financed system whose goal is to optimize our health care system in every way possible.
I don’t buy the argument that “all government is bad.” There are certainly good laws out there, and certainly bad ones. The No-Call List law has been amazingly successul; the NIH is a government organization that divides up billions of dollars a year for medical research; fire and police departments keep us safe, and libraries provide their communities with access to books and information. I certainly don’t believe that any of these would be greatly improved by privatizing them and adding a profit component.
Would single-payer (or any big health care reform change) cause massive changes in our health care system? Absolutely, but I believe to solve or improve many of our health care problems we need massive change. Massive change happened when we gave women the right to vote, or decided that segregation wasn’t acceptable, but I’d argue we all now view these things as fundamentally improving society.
Many of you I’m sure will not be convinced by my arguments. That’s fine. But if that’s the case, it’s your job to come up with a better answer that also has the ability to address the other issues this country is facing besides just paying for health care.
(For example: ED docs love to bitch about EMTALA and people taking ambulances because gas is expensive, but I have yet to see other reasonable ideas for solutions from them.)