Saturday, June 30, 2007

98. Movie sparks healthcare debate

Michael Moore has created another stir with his latest documentary, "Sicko." I was quick to both see the movie and engage in a number of debates concerning the ideas it suggests. And from the conversation, I think most would agree, that regardless of how you feel about national healthcare (and Michael Moore), it is both a movie worth watching and a topic worth discussing.

The movie brings forth a number of issues that currently affect our private healthcare system and compares it to national healthcare systems in Canada, Great Britain and France. It, admittedly, shows the worst of our private system while attempting to dismiss many of the myths propagandized about national healthcare systems.

Moore's movie is not about the 50 million Americans that do not have healthcare, it is targeted at the 200 million Americans that do- but have had to suffer through the system. Health insurance, despite employer contributions, is often burdensome on individuals and families. Repeatedly, the insured face steep co-pays, deductibles, premiums and prescription costs.

However, much worse are the procedures that are denied as unnecessary, experimental or part of a pre-existing condition. For these individuals, they must either finance the medical need, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy, or face the consequences- which might include disability or even death. Insurance companies, as testified before Congress by medical reviewers, are more profitable when care is denied. In other words, it is in their financial interest to, by any means possible, find a reason to reject health claims.

The argument against national healthcare is based on a few premises. The first is obviously the financial standing of those profiting in the current system, such as doctors, pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, and those that receive the large political donations. Investors have a lot to lose with a national healthcare system, and will not go down without a fight.

Another argument is the idea of government involvement, by either libertarians or those that want to extrapolate the idea to socialism. Since we already have tax-financed primary education, and safety (police and fire departments) systems - health seems like a similar social issue that would guarantee Americans education, safety and health. Unfortunately some are terrified of paying more than their fair share. Of course, this already happens in education- based on the value of your house and the number of kids you have accessing public education. As an American, despite my personal needs, I want kids to get an education, the fire put out down the road, criminals caught and put in jail, and, finally, people to get the healthcare they need.

Finally, some arguments focus on the perceived problems of government healthcare, and point to ideas like waiting periods for service. The fact is that despite some shortcomings, the proof is in the outcomes. Canadians, as well as those in many other countries, live longer than Americans and have lower rates of infant mortality. Clearly, the poor and uninsured, as well as the lack of preventive medicine, drive the statistical outcomes in these areas. Considering the wealth enjoyed by Americans, these numbers are nothing less than pathetic.

Moore's movie should not decide the issue, but bring it up for debate. National healthcare has no chance until Americans demand debate from their legislatures. And considering the influence of healthcare lobbyers, it might only be accomplished through the election of public officials dedicated to do what is best for Americans- not what is best for their reelection. The healthcare system, as it is now, is unmistakably in shambles. It is costly, ineffective, and driven by financial interest rather than care.

The irony of our private system is that most of the people that work in healthcare are hard working, underpaid and care deeply for their clients. Unfortunately, this mission is destroyed by the few, those at the top of the food chain, that care more about their investments than providing services to those Americans that are forced to rely on their employer's choice of health insurance. Private industry loses its integrity when its success, and profits, are not built upon the market place and competitive efficiencies, but rather the extraneous lobbying of politicians. Certainly, not even the staunchest capitalist will surmise that private healthcare is working, nor could they deny the effect of health insurance corporations, pharmaceutical companies and physician group on Congress.

Personally and powerfully, the fact of the matter is that nobody in national health care systems is ever denied care because of pre-existing conditions, because they cannot afford the co-payments, or because they do not have insurance. Furthermore, nobody declares bankruptcy or loses their home because of medical bills (medical bills are the number one reason for filing bankruptcy). Ensuring that everyone has healthcare is not any different that ensuring that there are fire fighters to put out a fire, or a policemen or policewomen to arrest criminals. It is the use of American taxes for the betterment of society.

The endeavor to adopt a more successful healthcare system, whether it is a social healthcare system, an improved private system or some sort of hybrid, even without the protected interests, is a daunting task. Moore's movie may have started the debate, but any chance of success depends on the insistence of Americans that changes be made.

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