Sunday, August 30, 2009

Is Obama Punking Us On Health Care?

As I watch the health care debate through the newspapers and blogs, and the confused and confusing statements of President Obama and his authorized spokespeople, I just don't know what to think. Obama refuses to make it clear that there's anything at all that can or can't be in the health care bill that he might finally sign. He seems content to publicly let others throw whatever they want into the grinder and see what sort of hash comes out of the other side.

The ultimate test of this approach will be what Obama signs and whether he signs a health care bill at all. Perhaps he believes it's not worth wasting his breath discussing thousands of alternatives that might or might not be abandoned by their proponents before the sun goes down.

I know one thing is for sure. When the final health bill comes out, I'm going to compare it to what "Third World's" Brazil has, which is free and public health care for everyone, as a constitutional right, regardless of income, and not subject to payment except through various taxes not directly related to health care.

If Obama accepts limits on health care for immigrants based on their status or lack thereof, then he and the Democratic Congress have failed. Health care is not universal and every one of us will have to prove our immigration status before the turnicut is applied to suppress our bleeding.

If, after all of this discussion, poor people still have to prove that they are insured before they can receive health care, then the effort has been an abysmal failure. It's not universal if there are people who are not covered.

If everyone is still talking about access to "insurance" rather than access to doctors,nurses, hospitals and medicines, then we will know that the insurance companies are still the arbiters of our health care "market," with insurers holding more power to ration our care than even our elected officials have.

When there is a natural disaster in a foreign country, we do not airlift supermarkets or food coupons to the victims; we airlift food. Likewise, the medical care disaster that is America does not need insurance companies. It needs more doctors, nurses, medicines and health care.

Speaking of which, there are approximately 50 million people (roughly 16% of the population) in the United States without access to health care except through hospital emergency rooms. When these people do gain access to health care, there will be 16% more consumers overnight, but the number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds will not have changed. If supply and demand rule markets, then the price of health care will increase as the supply becomes smaller relative to the demand.

Instead of talking obsessively about how to assure the insurance companies that they will earn more under a new regime, we should be talking about how we are going to train and deploy 16% more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. It is ludicrous to assume (or simply forget)that 16% new patients will require the provision of at least 16% more services. In fact, we should assume that demand will increase more than the number of additional patients, since many of those newly insured will have health care issues that have needed attention for years, but did not have attention for lack of access.

We should assume that there is pent-up demand for mamograms, prostate cancer screening, diet counseling and other services that were inaccessible before because they were not considered emergency treatment in hospital emergency rooms.

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