Monday, May 11, 2009

To Your Health

I had every inkling that the Obama years would be a pain in this blogger's posterior. Little did I know how literal my notion would become. Seeking neither to be too personal or too graphic, I will share with you that I have been suffering with inflammation and swelling off and on for the last two months, with the pain located at the - ahem, South Pole of my anatomy (Asstartica?) Understandably I have not been inclined to take my seat at the blogger's desk lately. Thanks to a fine cadre of doctors (and good proctoactive medications), my point of scatological egress is sufficiently narcotized such that I am able to resume my rightful place before the electromagnetic splendor that is my iMac.

So now the personal becomes the political. (Even the most banal of aphorisms becomes fodder when you've been out of the tee box for some time.) As I alluded to earlier, I am presently in a state of pre-surgical bliss - at least relative to a few days ago - due to the auspices of America's health care system. To be sure, it is far from perfect; among other things, it depends too heavily on employment, (with 59.3 percent of the insured getting care through their employers), and the supply of medical service providers is more closely aligned with a community's relative wealth as opposed to its health status. Worse yet, much of the money that is spent on healthcare is wasted outright or does not manifest benefits commensurate with the expense.

Nevertheless, our system is the envy of all nations. If you doubt me, simply ask the wealthiest of the world - many of whom reside in countries "blessed" with some form of universal health coverage - who fill beds at the Mayo Clinic, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic and other renowned tertiary-care institutions. In addition, you might talk to the Canadians - both health professionals and laypersons - who come to the U.S. to practice or receive care that they have been denied under their system.

Better yet, one would be well-served to speak to the
12.4 million non-U.S. citizens - again, many of whom hail from countries with perfectly good national systems - who are covered by a U.S.-based insurance plan for at least part of the year. Of that 12 million, 3.6 million (with nearly 2.0 million of Hispanic origin) are covered under some form of government health insurance. Interestingly, U.S. Census data for 2007 indicate that of the 45.7 million U.S. residents who were without health coverage, 9.7 million were non-citizens.

It is this system - a system that by every measure does more to meet the healthcare needs of the world than any other - that Barack Obama and the Democrats seek to change. Despite projections of massive upfront costs that range upwards of $1.2 to $1.5 trillion over ten years, Obama contends that his plan will save trillions more in the long run. Whether or not such is the case is entirely unknowable. But we can divine whether any sort of socialized medicine scheme will best serve the healthcare interests of Americans.

Again, we need only look at the countries where socialized medicine is de rigeuer. According to research from the Fraser Institute, Canadians currently wait an average of 17.3 weeks for surgical or other therapeutic treatment, with wait times as long as 31.7 weeks for neurosurgery and 36.7 weeks for orthopedic surgery. This is all in spite of massive increases in government spending since 1993. And the situation is little better in Great Britain, the rest of Europe or in the socialist paradise of Cuba.

And should we ever get to a situation where healthcare is considered to be a Constitutional right to be guaranteed by the government, then Katie bar the border, as there will hardly be enough coyotes driving semi-trucks crammed with illegal aliens to meet the demand. And as the demand inevitably increases, wait times (and cost), will increase accordingly. If we think our current system is expensive - to paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke - wait until the world finds out it's free.

Of course, even with insurance, Americans wait for care as well. In my own case, my procedure(s) were delayed until next month due to the fact that the physician who would perform them was booked until then. I accepted this delay as do most Americans when similarly situated; we understand implicitly that our system can offer a few key attributes - minimal cost, a high quality of care, timeliness of service and choice of provider - of which we can secure only one or two at any time.

The critical point is that I had the right to determine the course of my care. If and when healthcare becomes a budget line item, the idea of choice in healthcare will become another quaint notion of which Americans will be disabused, much as Obama has done with any conception of private property vis-a-vis his takeovers of General Motors and Chrysler. If there is a smidgen of a chance to avoid this fate, it may rest with the fact that the Obama administration is drawing fire from both liberals and conservatives over his plan to create a government insurance program that would compete with private insurance.

Buttocks willing, I will keep you posted of my meanderings through the healthcare labyrinth.

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