Broken Health Care System

Article excerpt

Byline: Alex Gerber, M.D., THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Media reports our health-care system is "broken" and "threatened with meltdown" are hardly surprising in view of costs soaring fivefold the rate of inflation and with 45 million Americans uninsured for medical care.

More than a century after Germany's Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced universal health insurance (UHI) to the civilized world to combat communist political inroads, the richest and most powerful nation remains unique in not providing all its citizens what the people of other Western industrialized societies have enjoyed for decades - the assurance economic considerations are not paramount at a time of an illness or accident.

We pay heavily for the failure of our health-care socioeconomics to keep pace with the brilliant advances of our medical science and technology. The prestigious National Institute of Medicine estimates this health-care enigma results in 18,000 preventable deaths yearly (6 times the mortality of September 11, 2001) and an economic loss of $65 billion to $130 billion from these early deaths.

Neither presidential candidate in this election, however, have offered a workable solution to our health care dilemmas.

Health care has never been high on President Bush's agenda. While he was governor, 241/2 percent of Texas' population was medically uninsured - the highest percentage of the 50 states.

Now Mr. Bush promises to "build on the health-care reforms we've started " and "on the successes" of his first term. The cost of this building program would be a modest $89 billion.

A review of his claimed successes indicates the president will be building on a shaky foundation indeed. In his first term, Americans without health care insurance increased by 4 million and continue increasing 100,000 monthly.

Mr. Bush has restricted stem-cell research, to the dismay of the scientific community and Nancy Reagan. He has advocated a reversal of Roe vs. Wade, which would result in the poor giving birth to at least 500,000 unwanted babies yearly and a multibillion increase in health-care and social costs. And his answer to escalating health insurance premiums was medical savings accounts, which fortunately have gone nowhere, as this regressive concept would shelter taxable income for the affluent in higher brackets.

Perhaps Mr. Bush's most unfortunate "success" was his Medicare reform bill that eliminated negotiation of prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. Thus, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) - 35 million strong - was denied the advantage of bargaining through bulk purchases. Imagine the uproar in the corporate world if Hertz was prevented, by law, from realizing hefty discounts by purchasing autos in large lots.

Sen. John Kerry's health-care-reform package suffers from not presenting the voters a simple, comprehensible program that narrowly focuses on the most salient problems of our system - skyrocketing costs and a huge medically uninsured population. His Web site spells out, in nine pages, health-care reforms that would "harness American ingenuity" to cure a large assortment of health care problems.

Mr. Kerry tackles medical-care quality with a new "Quality Bonus Award" and addresses medical malpractice; meritless lawsuits, medical errors, medical bureaucracy and paper work, waste, fraud and abuse. He also favors involvement in actual medical practice by disseminating disease prevention information, promoting exercise and even fighting obesity.

It smacks a bit of Clinton's ill-fated Health Security Act that tried to correct all of medicine's deficiencies in a single session of Congress - a bill that aroused so much furor it never came to a vote. Moreover, the $653 billion estimated cost of Mr. Kerry's health-care program is sure to be resisted stiffly by a Congress facing an projected $2.3 trillion federal deficit in the next 10 years. …