“For more than one hundred years the United States people have yearned for a sensible Health Plan that could be effective, affordable and available to every citizen. While all industrialized nations provide their own Health Plans the US has stayed behind on what is one of the most important services that any government can and must provide whether industrialized or not. Its value is not political but humane!”
“Universal Health Care should not be merely an option to the peoples of the world but a right as vital as the air they breathe. Government in any form or shape has a responsibility toward its citizens that is embodied in the protection it is committed to guarantee!”
‘Professor, I was hoping that by now the US Health Care Plan would have been properly installed in favor of a universal service plan and as a result a few million more people could inhale without fear the CO2 we continue to produce on this continent. For myself and my declared hypochondria, it is most welcome as there are some interesting new ailments to consider!”
The Professor laughed, seemingly glad to discuss the topic that has become a major depository of gossip and often the originator of nasty echoes in our nation. He replied:
“Unfortunately we are still at it. Glad you asked but before we discuss it let us have a mid-morning pick me up that will include a drop of Grappa!.”
I felt at once that the topic would encourage the good Professor to provide a sound analysis of the health care situation in the US and would help me personally to understand its virtues and pitfalls. I feared that the great lunch that Antoine had prepared would become a second rate attraction. Not quite. After the glorious lunch that I shall describe in another issue, we moved to the Professor’s “Electronic Nest”, as he calls a room equipped with the latest electronic hardware. We sat down as Antoine appeared with two Expresso coffees and another offering of Grappa.
“Let me tell you that the Health Care Plan has brought an incredible display of obtuseness on the part of a small portion of the population. The odd part is that the majority of the people in the country consider health care as one of the top public priorities, especially those who expect their insurance premiums to double in the next few months!”
The Professor pressed some keys on the remote control and several screens lighted up at once. Curves, data, pictures, tabulations, charts and several recording chronometers that showed numerals in some and increasing figures on others.
“Let us do this the Scotland Yard way. Let me put the facts on the table, or the screens. Then we can comment, discuss, argue and review.”
“I am all eyes and ears, Prof!”
He nodded and said:
“First is that absurd complaint that the U.S. government cannot effectively run anything. Yet this is the government that created a most effective system to project our technology into space, put a man on the moon and will eventual assist the citizens of this planet to seek and develop new planets to conquer. You know, my friend, the way we are mistreating our natural resources it won’t be long before we will have to look for new horizons and what better than a far away star in a remote constellation where beer and coffee is still a nickel each.”
He pointed at another screen and added:
“This is also the government that runs a health insurance program — Medicare — that continues to provide outstanding services to older people in a way that private initiatives can not match in quality or costs. Then there is a Veterans Medical Program that provides medical assistance to millions of US Armed Forces veterans and a Children’s Health Insurance program. To say that the government can not run a medical insurance program is utter nonsense!”
“Fine, Professor but there is matter of costs that have to be taken into account. Somehow, Government services often cost much more than private sector services.”
“You are talking about building tall walls in Baghdad. Not applicable here. Private insurance companies in the US spend around 30 percent of their income on marketing, administration, shareholder dividends, special investments, gratuities and of course those exorbitant salaries and bonuses for its top management. Medicare on the other hand operates at approximately an overhead cost of about 3 percent. It is easy to imagine the extent of the savings realized if Medicare is to provide universal care; the savings realized are sufficient to cover those uninsured in our country and have enough additional funds to develop major research projects in a number of ailments and the building of additional facilities. ‘
At this point the Professor paused to point at another screen that showed additional data on costs. I asked at once for a printout which the Professor gladly produced. I was not going to copy all those figures that, after the Grappa, might end up in total confusion.
Aware of my amazement at the detailed content of the screens he said;
“While statistics allow quick evaluations, they are not always the answer to a specific situation. They are just like adopting a pit bull as a pet. You have to handle it with care. However, and depending on the degree of perceptiveness of the user, statistics provide the backbone to most controversial arguments.’
“I am glad you said so. I always recall Disraeli’s famous reference to statistics: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics!”
The Professor laughed and observed:
“The printouts will give you enough statistics to determine how far or how close the positions about Health Care differ. It will certainly aid your millions of readers to clarify some of the many doubts that seem to cloud this important subject!
He quickly listed some of the major figures that were enough for a sound comparative review. He went like this’
“Our per capita cost is about 7,600 dollars compared to 5,600 in Switzerland, 3,500 in Germany and France, and 2,900 in the UK
‘Those figures tells us a lot, Professor. But how do these expenditures impinge on results such as longevity?”
“Sharp question, my friend. Japan boasts the longest living rate at 82.07 years, followed by France at 80.87, the UK at 78.9 and the US at 78.14!”
The Professor shook his head and commented:
“Mind you, the US has an excellent level of quality and in many areas is without question the best. Our medical profession is recognized as outstanding same as most of the facilities in operation. In the total context however we drag miserably as our insurance cost structure does not allow a greater percentage of the population to access adequate health care. This of course affects any efforts at prevention.. Remember that Insurance premiums keep increasing at incredible rates; notice that these rates grow at four times the rate of growth of the average worker’s wages and there are millions that have no resources to be able to use adequate health care!”
“Interesting, Professor but why is it that only 30 percent of Americans rate our existing health care system as good or excellent?”
“Listen, if you are a member of Congress, a major corporation executive, a government official, a lobbyist or a celebrity of some sort, you are satisfied with the Health Care hat is provided to you and your family. The fact that our per capita health care spending is double that of any of the developed countries does not mean much to you, if at all. It is the rest of the crowd that has to put out with the insanity of the system!”
“Those are harsh terms Professor.”
“Reality, sometimes is not only harsh but also deplorable. Take the exorbitant billing costs incurred by health care providers. Every hospital and medical practice must support organizations that include massive billing departments that seem to be forever busy submitting (and resubmitting) claims to the hundreds of insurance companies who have managed to engender hundreds of different insurance plans. Just try to understand one of those insurance policy applications, my friend. In addition to patience and a very complacent mood, you must be able to understand the language they are written in! The administrative staffs in other countries need no more than a few employees in their billing, maintenance and operation management activities.”
“How about those stories that foreigners rush to the US for medical care?”
“True. We do have excellent clinics and medical treatment. The number however is not the amounts suggested by some of the pundits and talk show hosts, who in some instances have confused people from Puerto Rico and Hawaii, both US states, as foreigners. They also do not mention the fact that close to ONE MILLION Americans go abroad to obtain medical care, mainly because of cost. Traffic in health care occurs in every region of the planet. People from Argentina go to Brazil and vice-versa, same as Algerians that go to France, Dutch go to Germany, and Moroccans that go to Spain.”
I felt that a number of questions in my own mind had been answered. Besides, I have been asked by a number of my readers to elucidate, whatever that means.
“Thank you Professor. This session, including the wonderful lunch, has been most shall I say, elucidating?”
The Professor laughed again, poured more Grappa in my glass and said;
“By the way, when we meet tomorrow, please buy me some Alka Seltzer; this Grappa has the Roman habit of upsetting part of the internal piping!”
“Sorry Prof. My insurance company would not allow it! Sounds like you have a pre-existing condition!”
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