Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I know where I'd want to be if I were sick

There is a nation that has its act together when it comes to medical care. Hint: it ain't the US. Just to provide some contrast, there are a couple regulars who will recall that I ended up making an ER visit while I was an academic conference a few months ago. Although I don't visit ERs on a regular basis, it's safe to say that when your spouse is a person with a disability (as is my case), you end up seeing the inside of an ER occasionally. That aside, as US emergency room visits go, it was exemplary. Sadly, that really isn't saying much. It took about five or six hours from my arrival to get examined. We'll note that some tests were run, and it took several hours to have any idea of the results. I saw a doctor for all of about a half a minute. The nurses were great, but overworked. Eventually, I learned that my worst fears were not realized, and once a course of treatment was recommended, I was partially on the road to recovery. It would take an hour after discharge to get a prescription filled (in the US, one must go to a completely separate facility, often far removed from the ER, unless one has the good fortune to be sick during the limited hours in which your hospital's pharmacy might be open for business). The reason I ended up in the ER out of town was because I couldn't afford to see my regular doctor at home prior to leaving for the trip (for those wondering about the paradox in that statement - the trip was already largely paid for by the time I left town). I consider myself lucky in the sense that I have insurance through my employer. With that insurance, I "only" ended up owing about $700 for a saline drip, blood and urine tests, and that half minute with a doctor. I shudder to think of what the bill would be if I had no insurance. I can also tell you that US hospitals approach billing much the same way that loan sharks shake down their clientele. Since I live paycheck-to-paycheck, I'm one major emergency away from a very short life of grinding poverty. As I say, based on my personal life history, this was a "good" experience. Personally I would have felt safer had I ended up sick at an academic conference in Venezuela.

Here's the thing. As I've mentioned before, Americans spend more for health care than citizens of any other nation and yet somehow we manage to get far less for our money. To put it bluntly, the US health "care" system is sick. Don't get me wrong. Surely someone benefits from the status quo, but it isn't the average health care patient. Rather it is the parasites on the system, the insurance corporations, the pharmaceutical corporations, and the conglomerates that increasingly operate what pass for hospitals that benefit (even more specifically, it is the executives who draw the high-priced salaries who benefit). They're killing their host. All one need do is compare indices of quality of life with those of other nations, and the handwriting is on the wall: life expectancies for Americans are now lagging other industrialized nations and are on par with those typical of some third world nations; infant mortality rates, obesity rates, and so on are also worse than those found in the industrialized world.

It doesn't have to be so bad. There is no good reason for us to be saddled with a system that few of us can afford and that leads to preventable deaths of those who are low-income.

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