Health: Fixes and Not Destruction

Today nobody questions the need to reform our health system. The cost of medical services continues to rise and every day more and more people lack health coverage. Most Americans need to work harder, and for longer hours a day, to be able to afford health insurance.

Despite this reality, we must also admit that medical services in the United States are of very high quality, and probably the best in the world. We have the best doctors and hospitals, and as regards developing innovative medical technologies, no one surpasses us. So much so, that the vast majority of Americans —about 80%— is satisfied with the quality of our health system. Moreover, thousands of patients arrive from abroad each year to receive medical treatment (most of them from wealthy countries that provide access to medical services to their entire population), precisely because they know how advanced and sophisticated medical services are in the United States.

One wonders, therefore, why is President Obama so obsessed with radically restructuring the whole health system, and in throwing it all overboard, instead of trying to preserve what works and fix what doesn’t? Everyone in Washington is aware that the president and his Democrat colleagues in Congress favor the so-called “public option”, i.e. where any citizen, regardless of their economic status, may opt for health insurance similar to Medicare, provided and managed by the government.

A national health policy would do away with many private insurers, as they would not be able to compete with the government, and whenever there is less competition, this jeopardizes the quality of medical services provided in the country, as well as the ability of citizens to choose their own doctor, hospital, or type of coverage, and would not reduce the cost of services, which is, after all, the root of the problem.

Those who support the idea of the government establishing its own insurance provider, with the subsequent massive bureaucracy involved, argue that this new insurance program would basically work the same as Medicare. However, no mention is made of the fact that the Medicare program is too costly and on the brink of bankruptcy.

On the other hand, a new government bureaucracy would be so inefficient that many physicians would choose not to accept government insurance, or would stop providing medical care services if they do not have access to privately insured patients, which is what happens with Medicare. It would also lead to a rationing of medical care, as happens in Europe, where patients are denied treatment to save money.

The truth is that Obama’s proposal would not fix the system; instead, it would destroy it. The solution is not to implode the system, but rather to make adjustments to the current one to reduce the high cost of medical care and ensure all Americans have access to high quality services.

Instead of dismantling our health care system, I believe that dealing with the conditions that give rise to the high cost of medical services would be much more effective. We know that treating patients with foreseeable health conditions, those caused by obesity for example, costs us billions of dollars each year. In fact, three out of every four dollars spent on medical services are to address chronic diseases, many of them absolutely preventable. That is why a true reform should put measures in place to promote prevention.

We also spend over 200 billion dollars a year on frivolous lawsuits due to medical malpractice. If patients fall victim to a doctor’s malpractice, they should certainly have access to a remedy, but money paid out for claims without merit lead to the rising cost of services, as physicians are required to perform many unnecessary tests and procedures as a defensive measure to try to avoid potential litigation. However, even President Obama strongly opposes the measures required to curb these unfounded lawsuits.

Promoting competition by creating a national market for private health insurance would also lower insurance costs considerably, and would increase the selection of doctors and services patients would have access to. Families, small businesses, community organizations and churches should have the option to buy a cheaper insurance policy in another state in order to have access to doctors and treatments in their own state.

Ensuring all Americans receive adequate medical services is an achievable goal, but this should be accomplished in a smart way. To impose government control over the health system, or have it play a disproportionate role would not solve this issue. On the contrary, it would create new and possibly more severe problems.