There are merits to most political views on health reform… but no one has found a real “cure.”
By Micah Hanks
One of the most contentious and hotly debated issues in America today has to do with health care, as well as who gets it, how it is provided, and of course, how it will be paid for. The employer-based system of the modern era, largely a product of incentives business owners hoped to give potential workers for low-paying jobs during World War II, somehow managed to survive decades of fundamental concern over the fact that health care, when attached to a person’s job, is lost when employment ceases. Yet, in spite of the utopian provisions of government-run single payer systems and mandated coverage for all citizens, public outcry against being forced to purchase health care, as proposed by President Barack Obama’s 2010 health reform legislation, has shown that there is no one “cure all” method of insuring coverage for all citizens… and keeping them happy at the same time.
The liberal argument tends to see private insurance companies as the root of the problem; this is accurate on many fronts, since issues like getting proper coverage for preexisting conditions help illuminate the unfair elements many Americans face right now. Widely publicized stories involving broken limbs and other accidents that, upon inspection, were deemed the result of a “preexisting condition” seem to show us just how corrupt and ineffective current health care plans can be. In a completely government-run health care system, private insurance companies would be removed in favor of medical services provided by state-controlled agencies. Proponents argue that this sort of single-payer system would not only insure health care for all citizens, but it would reduce exorbitant costs incurred thanks to the wealth of paperwork hospitals and doctor’s offices must complete and file for different providers annually. Additionally, since this system would be designed to provide universal coverage to all citizens, there would be less need for programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which presently only serve certain groups such as senior citizens and low-income families; perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that both are programs that see continuous problems with funding, also.
Still, in spite of the money that might be saved each year under such circumstances, universal coverage—often referred to as “free” health care—would be no freer than the potential rise in taxes used to pay for it would go unnoticed. In addition to the enormous cost burden placed on taxpayers, those who argue against implementing universal coverage, namely conservatives, say that such a system would create an enormous “safety net” in which people, with no costs of their own to impede their decisions about when to get treatment, would make more unnecessary visits to doctors. This also would contribute to waiting lists for operations, as is already the case in a number of countries that currently provide universal coverage. Clearly, when factoring in all the costs associated with providing services at hospitals (some of which are more expensive than many doctors and nurses are even aware), the taxpayer money required to fund an operation of this magnitude would be tremendous, and might even be worse than the funding issues with existing government health care programs.
Weighing such factors against the corruption and costs present in the current system, one area where revisions would be particularly viable would fall under practical implementation of tort reform, paired with limited oversight of the private insurance industry, as a better option for health care reform altogether. By limiting the number of unnecessary treatments and tests doctors must perform to defend against malpractice suits, advocates of tort reform claim that huge amounts of money could be saved annually. But are there other ways people might benefit from tort reform, and could this help make treatments we receive better by becoming less costly and more efficient—or by removing some of them altogether?
A June 2010 Associated Press article titled “More medical treatment can hurt, not help,” pointed out some of the ways that certain testing—sometimes required more as a protection for doctors and medical professionals than the patients receiving them—can actually be harmful to one’s health. “From nearly one fifth to one third of the tests and treatments we get are estimated to be unnecessary,” the report said, “and avoidable care is costly in more ways than the bill: it may lead to dangerous side effects.” Among the ailments listed in the piece were excessive CT scans, citing numbers that show how Americans get more frequent doses of medical radiation than any other country in the world. Additionally, stents applied for heart problems may increase patient’s risk, when in many circumstances the condition was treatable with medications instead. Other problems range from prostate and cervical cancer screenings, to back surgeries and MRIs that aren’t able to pinpoint or prevent diseases that might occur later, in spite of the tremendous costs the procedures incur.
Arguably, cutting back on unnecessary testing of this sort could save millions, if not more, annually. Plans for reform that would provide medical professionals with protection from frivolous litigation, while at the same time cutting back on unnecessary procedures, seems to be a more common-sense reform than forcing citizens to purchase a health care plan; in spite of loopholes that will drive up premiums anyway. If one were to compare the estimated savings under such a system, it would be interesting to see if we’re already spending anything close to what proposed single-payer options might cost us in more frequent doctor trips and unnecessary testing at the discretion of patients, rather than doctors who are already having to implement them as a means of protecting their practice. Few would argue that reform is needed… but at present, it doesn’t look like we’re close to finding a practical “cure” for the health care conundrum yet.
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