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economic justice | government | health

Health system in crisis; we pay too much, get too little

The American healthcare system is nearing the crisis point. We have got to do something about it.
Springfield News
May 4, 2005
 link to www.springfieldnews.com

Despite exceeding all other industrialized nations in total health care spending, American do not have broad access to care. Well over forty million Americans, nearly ten million of them children, remain uninsured, and the numbers are steadily rising.

Millions more are struggling to pay premiums that are growing much faster than wages, while seeing their benefits shrink. For many workers, whose incomes are barely too great to qualify for Medicaid, insurance is becoming a luxury sacrificed to pay for housing, food, and transportation.

While some Americans have access to the best medical care and the most sophisticated diagnostic tools in the world, others are left to overcrowded and expensive emergency rooms, free clinics, or no health care at all. Health problems are left to fester untreated until crisis or catastrophe, and the expensive medical care that results is often then passed on to the rest of society.

Besides being morally wrong, as each year passes this health care crisis is costing our nation more dearly. Total health expenditures are absorbing a steadily greater share of GDP. Health care spending by government is soaring. And as our population rapidly ages over the coming decades, at the same time as our ratio of workers to retirees steadily shrinks, the rising costs of public program obligations, already burdensome, will be unsustainable.

The growing disparity in our health care system violates America's deep, long-standing commitment to fairness for all citizens. That a nation as rich as ours cannot guarantee access to quality and affordable health care for all of its citizens is one of the great moral crimes of our times. That a nation with the highest health spending among industrialized nations lags behind in life expectancy and leads in potential years of life lost, in addition to having one of the developed world's worst infant mortality rates, in inexcusable. We can and must do better.

Thankfully, comprehensive change does not require dismantling our health system. It requires political courage and popular momentum. It requires tough choices and shared sacrifices, to balance the competing goals of sustainable costs, broad access, and good quality. It requires incremental implementation in order to minimize disruptions and facilitate political consensus.

Most of all, fixing the health care system requires changes in American attitudes. For example, no longer can we spend 85% of the lifetime health care dollar in the last six months of life, and still expect braod access and good quality health care during our entire lives preceding. Such unbalanced emphases must gradually change if we are extend the right of health care to every American.

The path to that goal will be measured in years rather than months. Americans must urge their political leaders to take the long and steady course, rather than fast and ultimately meaningless actions meant to placate voters with displays of official energy. Patchwork solutions will not do.

America's health care crisis is not unsolvable, but politicians must first cease from overemphasizing lesser problems and underestimating greater ones. Health care ranks as one of our generation's greatest challenges. Ensuring quality, affordable, and accessible health care for every American, will keep our families healthy, our businesses competitive, and our country strong.

Todd Huffman, M.D., is a Springfield pediatrician affiliated with McKenzie-Willamette hospital.
More Hot Air 11.May.2005 15:36

Jimmy Crackcorn, Jr.

Hi Todd. Your rant has been repeated over and over many times before. You might as well have cut and pasted an editorial or Op-Ed piece from any daily newspaper in the US on any given day. Books come out every year with the same points. Most recently, Gordon, C. (2003) "Dead on Arrival: The politics of health care in twentieth-century America," or Quadagno, J. S. (2005) "One Nation, Uninsured: Why the U.S. has no national health insurance."

Also, just so you know, your numbers are a little old. According to Robert Wood Johnson, the latest uninsued figure is now up to 45 million.

Hate to tell you, buddy, but the issue is too complicated and dangerous for politicians, and the cultural climate in the US is too conservative right now. Instead of regurgitating the same old points, your post would be a lot more interesting if you just went to some of your local Springfield establishments (Elmers, strip clubs, insurance brokers, etc.) and ask people what they think about changing our health system. For example, you might want to ask them how much more of their tax money they're willing to pay for a better system.

So you don't think we need to raise taxes to cover everyone? Ah hah! Now we're onto something...Please explain how we'd do this.

I'm not saying it's impossible to reduce uninsured without raising taxes...But it sure is a lot harder than a letter to the editor, a manifesto, or a post on an Internet blog.

Good luck to us all...


Taxes 11.May.2005 22:25

George Bender

The tax burden in Oregon has shifted from business to individual taxpayers, through tax credits for businesses. The tax credits need to be abolished, to shift the burden back. This would raise revenue to support the Oregon Health Plan and reduce the number of uninsured. The corporate minimum tax, now $10 per year, also needs to be raised. Individual taxpayers feel that they are already overtaxed, with good reason, and will not vote to increase their taxes for any reason.

We also need to replace the mess of a healthcare nonsystem we have now with a single-payer system, where the government pays for healthcare for everyone, to reduce the huge waste in administrative overhead under the present system.

I don't care if the above original post is repetitive. We are going to keep repeating these facts until they sink in and something is done about it.

The last thing I would do is ask the average person in Springfield what they think should be done. The public is quite ignorant about this, as they are about most political issues. Not that our state legislators are much better. Their approach is to try to cut healthcare costs, which does need to be done, and otherwise ignore the problem. The best approach, politically, would be to organize the uninsured to force change.

Need to people's input 12.May.2005 12:26

Jimmy Crackcorn, Jr.

Good point about taxation. Corporate welfare must be abolished. Even if you're against a greater union presence or a higher minimum wage, we have to get rid of the corporate feeding trough.

I'm saddened to read that you think it's not a good idea to ask the average person what he or she thinks is right, Geo. While I'd never suggest that we ask people to devise a comprehensive solution, we simply can't ignore the common man on the street when we devise public policy. To do so is patronizing and aristoctratic. How dare we the educated try to speak for the masses! This is the bane of the Democratic party right now -- the abatross around its neck! I know the Republican party is run by secret evil reptilians, but at least they portend to be in touch with the average American.

And sure, the election may have been rigged. But we're still dealing with a very conservative nation that may not want government controlled healthcare. I'm not saying government controlled healthcare is wrong. I'm just saying the average Joe is not willing to give up more taxes to support it. The average Joe, even if poor and unemployed, is proud to be an American, a smoker, and a beer drinker, and values liberty above equality.

The average American is not a writer and a drinker of lattes. You may be, but the rest of your nation is not. If you don't believe me, hit the midwest. If you don't like it, maybe its time to move. We ain't going single payer any time soon. Deal with it.

The sun is rising on healthcare revolution 04.Nov.2005 09:09

Digital Bill digitalbill@charter.net

For those who are interested. The Feds are the biggest payor for healthcare and are in the process of making significant changes. They want to computerize all docs and hospitals. As well they want to give the patient more control via the Electronic Health record.  http://www.hhs.gov/healthit/goals.html

I support the EHR/PHR and Evidence Based Medicine but I see a serious problem with the US's trend to outsourcing medical records. How many medical reports are transcribed in India (you would be surprised).

I've been in the Medial Electronic industry most of my life and I can tell you in Radiology that I have been involved in reducing a mile of film and paper files into a one cubic yard server and the files where accessable anywhere in hard print or soft read. The sytem is called PACS (Picture Archival Computer Storage). And it can be used in the physicians office, hospital or ?? It is cost effective and I estimate about 20% of physical filing. Plus its secured and available to any subscriber.


Thoughts on the medical / health crisis 04.Nov.2005 10:41

Tom Shillock tomsh@qwest.net

Clearly, the percent of U.S. GDP devoted to medical care is too high. But it's easier for our elected "leaders", corporate managers, insurance companies, and medical professionals to shift these costs to average Americans thereby increasing the number of uninsured and under-insured than it is to devise and implement equitable solutions. It's a zero sum game for them because any solution that leaves the average American better off medically leaves them worse off financially. The solution requires that people with power and wealth give up some of it in the name of equity. Since the end of WWII these special interest groups have used their power and wealth to block reforms. The reforms of the 1930s in the U.S. happened because of a crisis of market capitalism but the current medical crisis is only a problem for the average American worker. Corporations are doing exceedingly well by outsourcing to India, China, eastern Europe and south America where the costs of medical care, environmental regulation, and financial accountability are non-existent. America's corporations and our politicians are doing their best to make it that way in America as well.