Friday, December 28, 2007

Stevie Joe Talks Socialized Medicine

So, another Christmas has come and gone in Junebug Holler. Snow is finally on the ground which means that our busted up old Junior is even less mobile than usual. As a result, the impression his butt makes in my davenport is getting deeper and deeper. Junior's dog, Junior Junior, has taken to following along. He's even taught himself how to let himself in the house when Junior is not around or just too inebriated to operate the door knob.

Not much is new in town. For once, there has been a welcome silence from the citizenry. Perhaps, it is just a reaction to the saga of our mysterious stranger. Now, I realize that you haven't heard much about him in quite some time. I will continue that story shortly, and the reason for my silence will become apparent. Let me just say for now that we all need a little rest.

Now, to the topic at hand: our American health care system. If you haven't heard, it's broke. I mean, it just plain sucks on many levels. Everyone seems to agree on this point, but there is great disagreement on what to do about it. Many of our current candidates propose offering "universal health care." None are very clear about what this means except that more people will have access to medical care, and it may or may not cost a bit less than today. Despite using the term "universal," most of these plans fail to provide coverage for everyone.

Then there is Dennis Kucinich, that guy from Ohio with the big ears. Now, Americans are a little hesitant about short, big-eared, quirky presidential candidates after Ross Perot (even though he entertained me so), and Kucinich has about the same shot at the nomination as Ron Paul. However, it's worth taking a closer look at his health care proposal: a single-payer, non-profit system.

Many folks have chosen to label such plans as "socialized medicine" and then offer less-than-enthusiastic descriptions of similar European systems (despite the fact that these countries have better health care statistics than the US across the board). I want to look at the phrase "socialized medicine."

This phrase implies that we now have some sort of free-market system. Well, it certainly is for-profit since a number of folks make themselves very wealthy from it. However, where is the consumer choice? In most towns, especially small ones like Junebug Holler, you get a choice of one hospital for most of your care.

Yes, America has a number of top medical facilities where the care is second to none. The problem is that regular folks like you and me usually can't get in. We sure as heck can't afford it on our own, and your dang lucky if you can get your insurance company to pay for it. For most folks, the local hospital is it.

When it comes to doctors, it's true that we often do have a choice. However, how do you compare? Doctors aren't exactly printing their prices in the Sunday paper. The same is true for prescription drugs. When the Doc says you need Medicine A, you go buy it. Rarely do you have the chance to compare prices and effectiveness with Medicine B. If the patent has expired, you can get the generic version, but many docs want to prescribe the latest and greatest cost be damned. So, where does that free market come into play?

The answer: it doesn't. It's a rigged system, and the folks making the dough make the rules. The largest health insurance company in the US is UnitedHealth Group. In 2005, they paid their CEO $122.7 million. The salary paid to one man could provide health insurance for 34,000 people.

It's pretty ironic that when common wisdom tells us that government is wasteful and private business is thrifty when the opposite is true in the health care industry. The operating overhead for Medicare is less than 3%. The overhead for private insurers is 15-30%.

According to Mr. Kucinich, 31% of the money we currently spend on health care goes to the cost of administering the system. Having hundreds of insurers and thousands of plans means a lot of bookkeeping. On top of that is the enormous profit being made by insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.

I don't know if Mr. Kucinich's plan is the best way to go. I do know, however, that what we have today is not a free-market system. It's a system where a small number of privileged folks get obscenely rich while the rest of us get substandard care. It seems like a no-brainer to change it.

Now, if I can just get one particular no-brainer off of my davenport,
Stevie Joe Parker

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