Thursday, December 28, 2006

Healthcare - the answers to the "crisis"

The Dems are lining up for their respective presidential runs and based on the last election there is a good chance that a Democrat will be in the White House. What does that mean for folks like me in the medical community? Well, I think it means trouble.

There are some serious problems in America’s current health care system. No one can argue that point. However, our politicians seem to have a difficult time acknowledging the real problems we face. For some reason, Washington thinks that our only health care problem is the number of uninsured, and once that’s fixed then everything will be fine. Just get every citizen health insurance and the healthcare problems will vanish. Wrong.

What Washington doesn’t realize is that there are numerous problems facing those of us who have insurance, and those problems should be addressed first before insuring everyone else. Otherwise, you just add to the problem. Why give someone faulty health care. So I have included a few tips, in simple terms for our politicians, on how to fix America’s healthcare. First, the little things:

Ban drug company advertising for prescription drugs. This was a huge mistake by Congress. Why do people need to know about prescription drugs? Isn’t that what doctors go to school for? It may seem like a good idea on the surface, but what it does is create unnecessary visits for things that aren’t necessarily problematic. For example, a recent commercial says "talk to you doctor if you’ve ever had problems sleeping". Well, who hasn’t had problems sleeping? Now, patients are making appointments for things that aren’t pathologic but are rather normal human variations in health. The result: costs go up and access to care goes down. Not to mention the fact that drug companies are better spending this money on other things like research and development.

Impose strict malpractice reform. Trial lawyers must be reigned in. They are out of control and they are ruining our healthcare system. The fear of being sued among physicians is driving us to practice defensive medicine. Labs, tests and scans are being ordered mainly as cover, even when they aren’t exactly necessary. This drives up costs. And since it’s usually the lower socioeconomic class that tends to be sue happy, they obviously can’t afford the extraneous tests, and the cost gets passed to other consumers. Plus, malpractice insurance is becoming too expensive and it’s driving physicians out of practice, thus increasing demand for care and limiting access. We need to impose caps on damages and harsh penalties on plaintiffs attorneys who file frivolous suits, including forcing them to pay ALL court costs (including the defense) for any suit they lose. Do this, and malpractice lawsuits will drop substantially.

Stay away from socialized medicine. This simply doesn’t work in a capitalist environment. It’s way too expensive and will bankrupt the federal government. What would happen if healthcare were free for everyone? Long lines, poor quality, limited access and huge taxes. It’s not the answer.

Keep Health Savings Accounts. Luckily, Congress passed this before disbanding. Basically, this allows people to save money, untaxed, for healthcare reasons while purchasing a high-deductible insurance policy for the big costs. It’s a great idea and I hope the new Congress doesn’t sink it.

Lower taxes on corporations. We have free trade with many countries. The problem is that the taxes here are higher for corporations than they are oversees. The result is the outsourcing of jobs and the loss of health coverage. In order for free trade to work for us, we need to lower corporate taxes to attract more international business and keep domestic business here. That means more jobs are created and more people are insured.

Allow small business to pool their resources and purchase large corporate policies for their employees. Why hasn’t this been done yet? Likely because the insurance lobby is awfully powerful. Small businesses simply don’t have the income to provide quality insurance for their employees, mainly because purchasing plans for a dozen people is too expensive. The larger companies get discounted care because they bring in more customers. It’s not exactly fair, but that’s how private insurance works. Hey, they have to pay their own bills. So, why not let small businesses come together under one plan? Where is the hangup here?

Allow physicians to practice concierge medicine. Dr. Vic Wood of West Virginia offers patients unlimited primary and urgent care for $83 a month. UNLIMITED. This doesn’t cover hospitalizations, medications or specialist care, but at least it’s something. It certainly beats an $800 ER bill for a sinus infection. Doctors can do this and still make a living, and it helps ease the uninsured burden. Similar plans can be found throughout the country. The Family Practitioners have found a way to help people who need help. So what’s the problem? Well, in some eyes, this amounts to operating as an illegal insurer. Who’s complaining? The insurance companies. This method eliminates the middle man thereby taking away from insurer profits. So they have to respond with lower rates themselves. Such is the world of free enterprise and healthy competition. It’s good for the consumer. But the insurers are winning the fight and many docs are not able to provide this service for legal reasons. In fact, insurance companies are pressing state legislatures nationwide to impose regulations on these retainer fees that private docs charge. This must not be allowed. People need the care, so what if it means the private insurers have to work a little harder to compete with the docs. It’s about time we gave doctors the upper hand and more say in American healthcare.

So that’s it. That’s one doctor’s solution to our healthcare needs. It’s simple and relatively easy. But I’m not holding out any hope that Congress will do these things. It’s much easier for them to raise taxes through the roof and provide blanket coverage for everyone. Just remember what the late Gerald Ford said (pp): "What the government provides for us the government can also take away from us." Well said, Mr. President.

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