“When You’ve Got Your Health You’ve Got Just About Everything” – Reflecting on the ACA (and T.R. Reid)
News Item: Supreme Court Lets Health Law Largely Stand
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday left standing the basic provisions of the health care overhaul, ruling that the government may use its taxation powers to push people to buy health insurance.
News item: Stockton, California, To File For Bankruptcy Protection
Stockton, California, said it will file for bankruptcy after talks with bondholders and labor unions failed, making the agricultural center the biggest U.S. city to seek court protection from creditors.
“Retirees are not going to be happy,” said Dale Ginter, who represented retired Vallejo workers in that city’s bankruptcy. “My prediction is that retiree health care is cut. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it cut to zero.”
The news hit this morning that the Supreme Court upheld the ACA act (frequently called “ObamaCare”). Regardless of your position on this, it might be good to take a look at the over all question: what about health care?
The city of Stockton, CA just decided to declare bankruptcy partly because of looming health care obligations of their retired employees. Other cities are in the pipeline for this problem, which will undoubtedly continue to spread.
In an increasingly out-sourced world, with people working at jobs that are not quite like the jobs of yesteryear, a growing percentage of Americans simply do not have/can not afford health care.
Of all the books I have read about the actual problem, “what can we do about health care?”, the best book I’ve read is The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T. R. Reid (New York: The Penguin Press. 2009). T. R. Reid is a respected and experienced journalist. He also has lived and worked as a journalist in many different foreign countries. He also has a bad shoulder. From the book:
“On the personal level, I was hoping to find some relief from my ailing right shoulder, which I bashed badly decades ago as a seaman, second, class, in the U.S. Navy. In 1972, a navy surgeon (literally) screwed the joint back together, and that repair job worked for a while. Over time, though, the stainless-steel screw in my clavicle loosened; my shoulder grew increasingly painful and hard to move. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, I could no longer swing a golf club, I could barely reach up to replace a lightbulb overhead of get the wineglasses from the top shelf. Yearning for surcease from sorrow, I took the bum shoulder to doctors and clinics in countires around the world.”
An international journalist, with a bum shoulder… This unique perspective certainly gives Mr. Reid a unique perspective from which to study this issue. Here are a number of key quotes from his book:
Government and academic studies report that more than 20,000 Americans die in the prime of life each year from medical problems that could be treated, because they can’t afford to see a doctor. That doesn’t happen in any other developed country. Hundreds of thousands of Americans go bankrupt every year because of medical bills. That doesn’t happen in any other developed country either.
Efforts to change the system tend to be derailed by arguments about “big government” or “free enterprise” or “socialism” — and the essential moral question gets lost in the shouting.
All the other developed countries on earth have made a different moral decision. Countries that are just as committed as we are to equal opportunity, individual liberty, and the free-market have concluded that everybody has a right to health care — and they provide it. One result is that most rich countries have better national health statistics — longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, better recovery rates for major diseases — than the United States does. Yet all the other rich countries spend far less on healthcare than the United States does.
The primary issue for any healthcare system is a moral one.
If we want to fix American healthcare, we first have to answer a basic question: should we guarantee medical treatment to everyone who needs it?
All the developed countries I looked at provide health coverage for every resident, old or young, rich or poor. This is the underlying moral principle of the health care system in every rich country – every one, that is, except the United States.
How many people go bankrupt because of medical bills? In Britain, zero. In France, zero. In Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland: zero. In the United States, according to a joint study by Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School, the annual figure is around 700,000.
For all the money America spends on health care, our health outcomes are worse on many basic measures than those in countries that spend much less.
The United States is the only developed country that relies on profit-making health insurance companies to pay for essential and elective care…
All the other developed countries have decided that basic health insurance must be a nonprofit operation. In those countries, the insurance plans – sometimes run by government, sometimes private entities – exist only to pay people’s medical bills, not to provide dividends for investors… The U.S. private insurance industry has the highest administrative costs of any health care payer in the world.
And here is the simple summary of his solution:
• Problem: Too many people without health care.
• Solution: Health care for all.
The ACA is now the established law of the land. There will still be many political battles to come. But, for me, there is always the simple brilliance of the Geritol commercial that I remember from so many years ago (watch that old commercial here):
“We’ve got so much to be thankful for. We’ve got our health and when you’ve got your health you’ve got just about everything.”
The older I get, the more I realize just how true these words are. And health care is pretty connected to the whole idea of “you’ve got your health…”