Why US Healthcare is Sick and Congress cannot fix it

Fr. Joel Society Today

Fr. Joel

The government is currently in the process of "fixing" health care. Before they fix health care, maybe we should look at what else they fixed recently, like the US financial system. Is anybody else worried? I recently read an excellent article, "U.S. regulators could learn from Canada’s banks." Even after the financial shake-up, Canada ranks #1 in financial stability in the world, compared to the US at #40. What makes them more stable is not so much the regulation as the mentality of the banks. Here are a couple quotes:

"Canadian bankers act less like Wall Street’s masters of the universe and more like sedate, green-eyeshade types. Regulators aren’t the enemy; they’re an early-warning system that signals financial problems before they blossom into catastrophe."

"In the U.S., some blame the financial debacle on the 1999 repeal of a Depression-era law that prohibited commercial banks from owning investment banks. But Canada notably allowed such mergers for more than a decade without incident before the U.S. scrapped its Glass-Steagall law. Conservative management made the difference."

The difference between Canadian stability and American financial market meltdown is not so much the set of regulations but the mentality with which they are applied. I believe that this is the key to understanding the health care crisis in America. The problems with the US system are not so much regulation or finances but a certain mentality. I think we make two fundamental mistakes: the Money Mentality, and the Unhealthy Society.

Problem #1 – The Money Mentality

In generations past, health care was considered a charity. Churches and communities funded hospitals and clinics for the good of their people and for the poor. This is why so many hospitals used to be named after a saint or something like Community General. In recent history, health care has morphed into a very powerful mega-industry. And now not only is the patient lost, but doctors and hospitals are existing for the wrong reasons.

Consider this:
I am skiing down a mountain and come upon a fellow skier who has cracked his head and is bleeding badly. So I take him quickly to the nearest clinic.
"Who’s going to pay?", they ask. They look for insurance cards or ID’s, but nothing. "Will you pay for his care?," they ask me.
"No, I only just met him."
Now, of course they are going to fix him up; it would be shocking if they turned away a bleeding man because he didn’t have money. So how come we consider them obligated to care for him even if he cannot pay? It is because health care is closely tied to the right to life. It saves lives, which are priceless.

The problem with modern health care is that it will give you anything, provided that you foot the bill. A pregnant mother gives birth and they present her with the baby and a bill for $25,000. But the hospital wants to seem caring, and no one feels cared for when the bill collector follows them out the door. So we have invented health insurance agencies, where the parents get the baby and the insurance man gets the bill. But health insurance only makes the problem worse. First, it adds a second layer of bureaucracy. Because they are paying they get to say what they will pay for. It intrudes into the doctor-patient relationship. Second, it adds an extra layer of cost. A whole company stays afloat shuffling money around between patients and doctors. Third, the insurance company eliminates free choice. Now I can’t go to a doctor I choose if he isn’t in the plan. Boardroom negotiations limit the choices of individual patients.

The whole payment structure is the problem. An article on the loss of primary-care doctors said: "The biggest problem is the payment model," says Sameer Badlani, an instructor at the University of Chicago’s school of medicine. "The more procedures you do, the more money you make. That is why, in a procedure-based specialty, a physician can make about four to five times the annual salary a primary-care physician can earn." (USA Today, "Doctor shortage looms")

Doctors are necessary for a healthy society. Being necessary is the ticket to making lots of money. But at its essence, health care is CARE for the sick and vulnerable. These are people whose health has been damaged beyond their ability to fix it. They are not in a position to shop and negotiate. What if someone called the parish and said, "I need to talk to a priest. I am really struggling", and the priest responded, "I would love to sit and talk but that will cost you $50 per hour." Imagine how shocked you would be to hear that story. Well, that is what the health-care mega-industry does to patients every single day.

When pharmaceutical companies advertise on TV, are they looking to improve the lives of patients or make money off them?

When hospitals refuse to settle malpractice claims until they are served with a lawsuit, do they have the patient’s best interest in mind?

When lawyers rake in millions with a tear-jerker of a story about little Johnny who can’t walk, even though the doctor could not have done anything better, is the patient truly served?

When doctors order extra tests so that the hospital can make ends meet, who is being served?

Doctors deserve to be compensated, but no one can really pay you enough to give your life to make the lives of others better. Where a mentality of service is lacking, the money will never be enough. The problem is the mentality of money, and Congress isn’t going to fix it.

Problem #2 – An Unhealthy Society

Health care does not exist only in hospitals and clinics. Health care is something we do every day. Clean water, clean air, and good healthy food contribute to health. Exercise, diet, lifestyle choices and jobs all affect health care. We as Americans tend to eat too much and exercise too little. Grocery stores are filled with bad-tasting vegetables bred so they would look good on the shelf. So instead we turn to processed foods and frozen pizzas. We pay little attention to our body’s need to sleep, relax and rejuvenate. Until something goes tragically wrong and we expect the doctor to fix us. The doctor cannot undo years of bad choices.

The second problem with health care is that it cannot save us from ourselves. We are fragile and mortal, prone to injury and death. So much money is spent at the end of life simply because people cannot accept the natural role of death. Just as our health will eventually give out if we fail to protect it, so the whole industry cannot survive under the crushing weight of an unhealthy society.

As much as Congress has tried to get America active, we have clung to our TV remotes and stubbornly resisted. So now that you have read this incredibly long post, you must realize that it isn’t just the industry that is at fault. You and I are part of the problem, and we could be part of the solution too. So get off your duff and do something active for 5 minutes and then go eat a healthy meal. Your body will thank you, and so will your doctor, and so will your country.