Health care is a touchy subject in America, aside from all of the wedge issues such as teen pregnancy, abortion, and funding for drug needles, which politicians use to carve out constituencies and gain votes every year around election time. Everybody wants to have a health care system which will allow them to have the best health care on earth, and most of us would agree that helping to provide health care to the millions of uninsured is a noble, and important goal. So why all of the rancorous demonstrations at town hall meetings and the inflammatory rhetoric?
Even President Obama noted that critics of his, and Congress’s health care reform plans, have made Canada into a “boogey man”, and even the President joked that he didn’t find anything particularly scary about Canada. Canadian bacon and frequent use of the word “Eh” aside, I would have to agree. While there are plenty of horror stories in the United States concerning our current health care system, such as patients who are wiped out financially because of a medical illness, or insurance companies who refuse to pay for life saving procedures only to grant a patient’s request the day before he or she dies, critics of the current health care reform have sought out horror stories of patients in Canada waiting long times for surgical procedures. Sadly, no health care system is perfect, and patients suffer all sorts of medical errors, mistakes, and frustrations when dealing their doctors and insurance companies in every country on earth.
However, waiting for health care services is nothing new in the United States, many people are unable to find a primary care physician in their area for months even though already having good health insurance. While Canada’s version of health care wouldn’t work in the United States, and Obama admits as much, the specter of so called socialized health care, and “death panels” which decide your elderly loved ones fate, have become a Frankenstein-type monster that people fear without reason.
We have all seen horror films where the angry mob with pitch forks and torches descends on Dr. Frankenstein’s castle and attempts to kill the creature, which is an unnatural abomination which much be wiped off the face of the earth. Unruly mobs are usually responding to a gut reaction which tells them that something is unnatural or, in the case of health care reform, un-American, and must be destroyed. Critics are happy to build their own Frankenstein monster over the democrat’s health care reform proposal because many Americans take their health care very seriously, and even a whiff of a possible death panel deciding when your number is up is enough to fuel hysteria.
Maybe so many Americans fear losing their current health care plan because they have been helped by technological advances in medicine in recent decades . Cancer death rates are declining, and treatment for common disorders such as heart attacks and diabetes is becoming more advanced, and will become more advanced over the next decades. So, ignoring the problem of 40 million Americans without health insurance for a moment, why stop a good thing? President Obama is correct, as are many other health care pundits, when he says that the rate of spending on health care as a percentage of GDP can’t be sustained. Meaning that we can choose to make small changes in health care now to make it more efficient, or risk having serious shortage in the future which would produce wait lists for surgeries many times longer than anything in Canada.
Part of the problem that Congress and the President face is that few facts are available about what health care reform will look like as different bills and versions are being scuttled around from committee to committee. Before the black cloth is pulled off of the creature that the President and Congress are building, everybody assumes the worst. Perhaps that is why these town hall meeting mobs want to “kill the monster” before he makes his debut to the American public.
I am reminded of the scene in Young Frankenstein where Gene Wilder presents his monster to an upscale audience, similar to one that might be seen at an opera, and initially everything goes OK, as the monster is able to sing an almost understandable “Putting on the Ritz”, before of course his picture is taken and he goes wild and the audience runs in panic. One almost gets the sense that Obama, like Gene Wilder, wants to reassure the audience that his “monster” is perfectly calm and able to perform. In the end, the suspense and uncertainty about what the final version of the health care reform bill will look like will do more damage than anything that is pushed through Congress.
In a way, there already is a health care Frankenstein loose in America today as millions of American who don’t have health insurance are burdening the Emergencies Room around the country. We are facing an obesity epidemic partly due to a lack of primary care physicians such as family practice doctors, who could actually council patients on weight loss and healthy eating, but who today must focus on billing and excessive paperwork. The obesity epidemic that may well cost us billions of dollars in health care spending, not including lost productivity. Despite what critics might say about health care reform, Frankenstein has already escaped, and Obama and Congress want to put him back in his cage.