Monday, June 13, 2011

Obamacare is Like a Bad Cold

America's healthcare debate keeps trickling back into our national consciousness. Even after the guts of Obamacare were pretty much put on hold after the last mid-term election.  It's like a bad cold that you just can't lick.

Last week, Yale law professor Stephen Carter claimed to sum up the trepidation of America's corporate leaders by warning that ambiguity over the Democrat's health care legislation has helped to stymie job growth.  In other words, if companies don't know what new employees are going to cost them in taxes, they're not going to hire until the government gets its act together.

And today, Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times reports that the British have begun to panic that their socialized healthcare system could become Americanized as tight budgets force a re-think of England's cradle-to-grave medical coverage.

Ironic, huh?  A couple of years ago, right-wingers were reviling Britain's government-run healthcare bureaucracy as an evil form of institutionalized medical gatekeepers where actuaries determined care instead of physicians.  Britons were indignant that their National Health Service (NHS) was being touted as the poster child for the evils of socialism, even if their 100%-subsidized system reeked of shoddy care, long waits, and ambivalent staff.  At least in England, they didn't have the exorbitant costs and the perception of discrimination based on ability to pay that we in America have to endure.

Now that Britain finds itself in a severe budget crunch, however, rumors have been flying that "American-style" healthcare may be imminent, stripping the English of their "free" medical culture.  And suddenly, it's America's healthcare system that's being reviled across the pond.  Even the Conservative-led governing coalition, fearing a voter backlash, has refused to broach the subject of tinkering with the NHS.

Now, America's current economic woes that pain corporate America aren't entirely because of President Obama. However, his push for what he called healthcare "reform" can legitimately be both blamed on him, and blamed as a significant impediment to creating new jobs.

And like just about everything else, the problem boils down to money. Some people like to paint the healthcare issue as a moral issue, in that poorer people are believed to suffer inferior care compared with wealthier folk. But even in that argument, money plays a role, too.

Healthcare Rights?

So let's get a proper perspective of the moral argument, and then focus on the cost of healthcare.

First, we need to understand that universal healthcare is not a right.  Medicine is not like the freedom to vote, the freedom to practice one's religion, or the freedom to speak one's mind.  Medicine can cure illnesses, and it can prolong lifespans, but life exists without it.  Just maybe not so long.  Or not in as high a quality as we'd like.

Society does not need medicine to breathe or procreate.  Medicine cannot guarantee us the freedom to vote, worship, or be opinionated.  Granted, medicine can help individual members of a society to do these things better, but plenty of obscure tribes and remote cultures around the globe have proven that life goes on without what we would consider to be basic medical care.

We fight wars over freedoms and rights, but at no time in history has a war been fought over medicine.  That's because nobody's ever considered healthcare to be a right until socialists began to explore ways of expanding their influence.  Good healthcare can provide significant benefits to humanity, and to the extent that we can introduce it to people groups across the globe, we should.  To the extent that we can even offer options for quality care to people here in our country, we should.

But healthcare is not a civil right.

Yes, providing good healthcare is a proven method for helping to secure a society. I believe that it is in America's best interests to have dependable, effective healthcare available at an affordable cost to every citizen who wants it. After all, developed countries have comparatively robust economies partly because their workers are relatively free from crushing diseases, epidemics, plagues, and mystery illnesses. National security is enhanced by medicine because the populace is not writhing unpredictably from panic over uncontrollable, killer diseases.  Our enviable quality of life and medicine's role in achieving it, from simple things like cough drops to complex procedures like heart transplants, are inextricably intertwined.

But still, healthcare is not a civil right.

This means that it is not incumbent upon a sovereign government to create and sustain a healthcare system for its people. Maybe if the government was a kingdom like Saudi Arabia's, where taxes are low because the treasury is flush with oil money, nationalized healthcare wouldn't be as contentious an issue. But even Saudi Arabia has begun to fret a bit about what's going to happen when its oil runs out - or its customers develop alternative fuels. Indeed, even in oil-rich monarchies, financial limitations are everywhere.

We Can't Afford Not to Cut Costs

Back here at home, a lot of conservatives like to blame entitlement programs for inflating the costs of obtaining and providing healthcare, and to an extent, even the socialized medicine available in the United States can engender a lack of personal responsibility. Both from patients who refuse to take care of themselves, and unscrupulous healthcare providers. And costs, rather than access, represent a critical hurdle in our national economy's ability to reduce anxiety over our healthcare system.

But how does nationalized healthcare resolve the issue of high costs? With a nationalized system, don't all costs simply get shifted to the taxpayer? How much cost savings is achieved when one healthcare system requisitions everything, as opposed to individual hospital systems and doctor associations?

Something tells me that consolidating healthcare under the federal government won't actually lower costs at all. Just look at our military spending for historical precedent on what the government considers fair prices.

Instead, I wonder how much cost savings in healthcare can be achieved if our society, and our government, tackled related problems.

What if:

1. We got serious about closing our national borders and eliminating the "birthright mother" syndrome? Could this eliminate many criminals - which is what illegal immigrants are - from public healthcare?

2. We penalized smokers by virtually taxing them out of their killer habit? Could this either encourage people to quit smoking, or provide extra money the government can spend on cancer research?

3. Health insurers could raise premiums for people with unhealthy lifestyles, from skydiving to overeating? Could this encourage all patients to take greater responsibility for their health and be accountable for the greater costs their risky behavior represents?

4. Health insurers were responsible to authorize Medicare expenditures for critical patients, like scooters and other devices currently being paid for in full by the government? Could this remove an inefficient government bureaucracy from the approval process, and encourage patients to be truthful to their insurance provider?

5. The laws defining malpractice were further narrowed, made to require stronger evidence, and reduced the cash awards possible? Could this eliminate many egregious lawsuits which, in effect, unfairly burden all doctors, and thereby, the overall healthcare industry?

We Don't Have Time to Waste, Either

I've harped on this before, and I'll harp on it again until somebody listens to me: I don't understand why changes to our healthcare pricing structure aren't being led by practicing doctors. Aren't our medical professionals the best ones to evaluate what works, what doesn't, and future possibilities that deserve consideration? Why are we letting politicians craft legislation of this caliber?

By lowering costs in the medical marketplace, don't we stand a better chance of retaining the hallmark of personal choice that helps identify our standard of care in the United States? Are the American people really asking for a government take-over of healthcare, or do we simply want to make it more affordable? And if the answer is the latter, since when has the government made anything more affordable?

The answer should be clear. And it's an answer that deserves serious consideration, especially if Yale's Carter is correct in asserting that employment could rise tomorrow if Obama nixes his healthcare legislation today.

After all, Mr. President: your job depends on American jobs. And if you're too beholden to dying unions to release your grip on obstructive legislation like Obamacare, then you'll get to join the same ranks as millions of Americans:  unemployment.

But then, at least you'll still have the federal government's Cadillac healthcare plan. That the rest of us pay for.

Well, those of us with jobs, anyway.


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