Thursday, February 03, 2005

More About a National Health Plan

A while ago, I wrote about an episode of O'Reilly Factor on Fox, during which Mr. O'Reilly discussed the idea of a national health plan with Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler.  Now, the Physicians for a National Health Plan have the video up on their site.  It is recommended viewing for all medical students.  Not because they need to learn about universal coverage, but because it may be their only opportunity to see an actual case of rabies in a human. 

Mr. O'Reilly practically starts frothing at the mouth in this interview.  He objects to the notion of himself having to bear part of the cost of someone else's illness, particularly when that illness was crated or exacerbated by personal choices, such as overeating, or lack of exercise. 

The flaw in this argument is that it is not just an argument against universal health coverage, it is an argument against all risk-sharing arrangements.  Carry that to its conclusion, and it reduces to the absurd fairly quickly: no health insurance, auto insurance, homeowners insurance, shipping insurance, etc.  The absence of insurance would set our economy back to the eighteenth century.  Most often, you cannot drive a car, own a home, or erect a building without insurance. 

Yesterday, I pointed out the fact that the lack of universal health coverage poses a threat to everyone's health, because of the problems posed by emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.  Improving the health of the entire population is the best way to protect your own health.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, goes around insinuating that a National Health Plan would mean that "the government" would control your health care.  That is nonsense, of course.  It probably does not sink to the level of a damn lie, but it certainly is propaganda.  We can design any plan we want; if we don't want the governement to control it, then we don't design a plan with governmental control.

By the way, I know a lot of MD's who favor a national health plan; I don't know any who favor a plan run entirely by the governement.  In fact, I don't think anyone is seriously proposing that.  So it is ridiculous for Mr. Bush to imply that.  It is not a valid form of argument, to mislabel the opposition, then criticize the incorrect label.  I'm sure there's a Latin term for that kind of argument, but I don't know what it is.

Others who object to a national health plan point to the long lines that some Canadians experience while waiting for health care, and imply that the same thing would happen here.  That is just plain dumb.  The length of the lines would be up to us.  If we want a cheap system, we can design one, and have long lines.  If our priorities are such that we want to get rid of the lines, we could do that, too.  It just depends on how much we want to spend, and what other priorities we have.

The war in Iraq is estimated to cost five billion dollars a month.  We could improve health care quite a bit if we would just keep our priorities straight.

Enough ranting for tonight.  I'm just going to make one more point.  This is from an article I encountered somewhere, while browsing through various medical journals.  I can't recall where I found it first, but the article of interest is up on the PNHP site, which is what got me going on this topic in the first place.
Bankruptcy Study Highlights Need For National Health Insurance
Most Bankrupted by Illness Had Insurance
Physicians’ Group Decries Fake Reforms and “Counterfeit Coverage”

A new Harvard study of medical bankruptcies highlights the growing number of Americans with dangerously skimpy health insurance coverage and the need to address the problems of the insured as well as the uninsured, according to Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). The study, published today as a Web Exclusive by the journal Health Affairs found that half of U.S. bankruptcies, affecting 2 million people annually, were attributable to illness or medical bills. (Copies of the article can be accessed at: www.pnhp.org/bankruptcy/uninsured.html)

The physicians’ group pointed out that three-quarters of those bankrupted by illness were insured when they first got sick. While politicians acknowledge the need to cover the uninsured, they have ignored the worsening plight of those with coverage. Rising health care costs, skimpier policies and the cancellation of coverage when illness causes job loss have augmented the financial risk for those with insurance. This heightened risk is reflected in the 2200% increase in medical bankruptcies since 1981 found in the Harvard study. [...]
Bankruptcy, like infectious disease, is a problem that affects us all.   When a member of your community goes bankrupt, the entire economy of the community is affected.  It's a huge problem, and it is getting worse.  The economic impact of two million bankruptcies per year is staggering.  Eliminating that would partly offset the cost of the program.

In his State of the Union Address, Mr. Bush proclaimed his support for a "pro-life" society.  He is pro-life alright, unless saving that life happens to cost money, in which case, well, it's a tough world out there.

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