Universal Health Care

May 24, 2009

By Padmini Arhant

Health Care is not an individual matter. It’s a national crisis as clearly expressed in President Barack Obama’s message.

“American families are watching their premiums rise four times faster than their wages. Spiraling health care costs are shackling America’s businesses, curtailing job growth and slowing the economy at the worst possible time. This has got to change.”

President Obama’s Health Care Policy aimed at three core principles — "it must reduce costs, guarantee choice, and ensure quality care for every American.”

The combined forces of the Health Care industry represented by the Insurance, Pharmaceuticals, Biotech, Academic institutions (e.g. University of Chicago), Hospitals, Medical Centers and Private Medical facilities not barring Wall Streets’… dominance in the highly commercialized and profit driven enterprise has led to the status quo of the most important economic structure in the society.

Industrialized nations have experimented with both socialized and privatized medicine. Some commonwealth nations viz. United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have blended the national health care with private and taxpayers’ funded policy. In the exclusively privatized medicine, the privileged segment of the society thrives while leaving the remaining population at the mercy of their faith and own ability to bear the financial burden in medical costs. Such situation has forced families to deal with unparallel traumatic and tragic ends.

Meanwhile, socialized medicine despite criticisms benefits most if not all. President Obama’s strategy directed towards the universal concept of sharing the costs and benefits to insure every individual. The proposal is flexible with choices between the government plan and the private sector offer. Also guaranteed in the plan is affordable and quality care, an ideal and a rare combination.

Evidently, the health care costs rising disproportionately to the benefits have contributed to an alarming proportion of the population uninsured and in most cases underinsured, thereby worsening the crisis. Sadly, in both scenarios the patient deprived of longevity in life due to the lack of national health care. Life being uncertain, a private citizen without health insurance is like a fish out of water. It is particularly harsh on the patients who are unwell and more so with the chronically ill struggling between life and death. The impact is even greater among the socially and economically disadvantaged class.

The suffering exists across the board with hospitals and community health centers/services shutting down as the primary targets of state and national fiscal crisis.

The Insurance industry thus far the most influential entity dictating terms and conditions entirely in their favor from eligibility by eliminating patients with ‘pre-existing illness,’ to co-payments, deductibles and access to health care providers and services. Further, the industry’s excessive intervention in patient care proved intrusive and fatal in many circumstances with lawsuit settlements in millions of dollars.

It doesn’t fall short of forging alliance with drug companies and some health care providers instructing patients to limited care and bypassing vital preliminary tests in the protocol with the substitution of medications overriding the preventive care of early diagnosis, the desirable and sensible approach to saving lives and costs.

Again, the flip side has a potential ethical issue with the health care providers stretching the limit on rigorous testing as an insurance against malpractice lawsuits aside from recovering investment costs on expensive medical diagnostic equipments. Either way, the patient/consumer is the victim of flawed system.

Pharmaceutical and biotech industries exploiting the uninsured and underinsured dying patients in their overzealous marketing and promotion of new drugs developed through volunteer participation in clinical trials have risen lately.

The industries seek immunity in the clinical trial patients’ written consent assuming responsibility to the calculated risks notwithstanding loss of life. The argument may rest on justification to find cure and aid humanity, however it’s not equivalent to actions governed by ethics.

Ironically, the recent medical news reports claimed the terminally ill without insurance mostly volunteered with the hope of getting new life in the unmitigated experimental cure.

There are more compelling facts regarding uninsured pregnant mothers foregoing antenatal and postnatal care, including the newborns from the neonatal attention subsequently leading to serious complications costing the tax payers horrendously in the county hospitals.

In a similar context, the ailing and wounded war veterans returning from war zones for treatment in the state-of-the-art medical center recently stranded by the closure of Walter Reed Memorial Hospital and other V.A medical centers.

The veterans’ post combat care and facilities have deteriorated to an appalling condition in the past years and the veteran affairs legislation initiated by President Obama enacted the medical provision for armed forces personnel.

Youth population has been worst hit in the health care crisis. Teenage pregnancies on the rise along with an epidemic level obesity due to unhealthy food choices surging in the market combined with limited sports activities from the lack of educational funding.

Senior citizens aren’t any better in the health care gamut. The geriatric population is marginalized with skyrocketing drug costs, forcing them to other avenues like Canada to purchase relatively cheaper medications and others travelling to South Asia for surgeries and treatments requiring hospitalization.

In a nutshell, the health care in the United States is in shambles. Policy embracing the health coverage for all Americans in an efficient system that delivers cost effective, valuable care without compromising patient’s health and life in exchange for profits is in order.

Further, the overhauling of the system is imperative with technology-oriented operation in the multifaceted management. Cost saving strategy should focus on the appropriate use of human expertise with complete utilization of qualified health care professionals in the hierarchy such as nurses, nurse practitioners, dieticians/nutritionists, counselors, therapists, technicians and everyone engaged in the wellness program.

Both private individuals and the employers would benefit from the platter with free market competing against the government plans. This would not only promote checks and balances in the highly disorganized and profit motivated sector but also remain competitive in keeping the costs down for the providers and the consumers.

Research and development instrumental for advanced care and United States has been in the forefront in that aspect. Funding stem cell research, regenerative medicine and the promising personalized medicine -‘Genomics’ is the direction for United States to lead the rest of the world.

According to the biotech industry –

“Genomics – Personalized medicine is a movement to use advancing knowledge of an individual’s molecular makeup to provide better preventive care, as well as better diagnosis and treatment.”

Genomics, apart from being revolutionary in the preventive care field, appears far more cost effective as well.

Keeping NIH well funded is representative of commitment towards general well being of the society. Also equally important is the easing of immigration laws for scholars, scientists and students to visit U.S. universities and research centers for scientific exchange programs.

United States isolated as an industrialized nation in the failure to meet the highest challenge with health care. The partisan politics and special interests holding almost every crisis hostage for profits and political agenda is detrimental for their own and the country’s future.

Approval of President Barack Obama’s comprehensive health care including the above recommendations would help the United States earn due recognition on the topic avoided for fear of political backlash.

It’s no longer possible to procrastinate having lost precious time, as too many lives are at stake. The lawmakers taken to the daunting task of doing it right with the issue literally matter to life and death.

The critics, attack the proposal with nick names ‘Robin Hood’ principle of socialized medicine. Nonetheless, the lack of action in health care compares with the paradoxical “DR. Jack Kevorkian” in the society-assisted euthanasia.

Finally, Health Care is a necessity not a choice.

Thank you.

Padmini Arhant