Monday, April 11, 2005

The Best Care Money Can Buy

Over the last couple months my daughter has been having some pretty rough health problems that have raised issues in her life I haven't had to deal with before: disability payments, surgery options, likely job loss, and permanent impairment. And the elephant in the living room through all of this has been health insurance. Luckily, she had it when her problems began, but she may not have it much longer if she loses her employment status, which is inevitable if she can't return to work at some point.

During the obscenities of the Terri Schiavo extravaganza, I couldn't help bitterly noting how little the concern of the religious right, so public and so vocal on behalf of a woman whose care was never financially in question, extended to those who can't even get a doctor to look at them. All over the country people are ill and dying because they could not afford health care, or couldn't get it in time. They would have been happy to have a clutch of protesters standing over them. They would have been happy to have their governors create special legislation to help them get the care they needed, and to have the president drop his brush-clearing to fly up to the capitol and sign a federal law passed just for them.

44 million people, and who knows how many more, like my daughter, on the brink of losing what they already have? And our system continues to assume that insurance through employers is the best of all possible worlds, when it is exactly because of that, that so many people fall through the cracks.

In the NYTimes today, Paul Krugman is promising a series on the healthcare crisis in America, staring out with this introductory piece:
"In the long run, medical progress may force us to make a harsh choice: if we don't want to become a society in which the rich get life-saving medical treatment and the rest of us don't, we'll have to pay much higher taxes. The vast waste in our current system means, however, that effective reform could both improve quality and cut costs, postponing the day of reckoning.
To get effective reform, however, we'll need to shed some preconceptions - in particular, the ideologically driven belief that government is always the problem and market competition is always the solution.
The fact is that in health care, the private sector is often bloated and bureaucratic, while some government agencies - notably the Veterans Administration system - are lean and efficient. In health care, competition and personal choice can and do lead to higher costs and lower quality. The United States has the most privatized, competitive health system in the advanced world; it also has by far the highest costs, and close to the worst results."
And I will be returning to this issue, too. Not just because it's near to my heart, but because I can't bear the idea of a society that keeps caring more about multi-celled eggs and the living dead than it does about the people who have to live and suffer in its midst.

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