With the possible exception of domestic terrorism, no single issue is more of a political hot potato than health care. While most of us are living longer and healthier lives, compared to Americans of one or two generations ago, paying for the care of our aging population, to say nothing of our undocumented “guests,” will surely push the system beyond the breaking point.
Many Americans are afraid to make career changes that would otherwise benefit them, because of uncertainty in the availability of health insurance, drug costs are high and headed higher, and even the FDA can’t seem to protect us from dangerous pharmaceutical side effects. Calls for a single payer or socialized system are nonstop, despite the failed record of such systems in Canada and Europe.
Just how can this looming crisis be addressed?
Let’s start by challenging some of the well-accepted assumptions and terminology.
First of all, what we call “health care” is really disease care, and “health insurance” is actually disease care provider payment insurance. It is no accident that health and disease are confused, since the dominant form of medical treatment is allopathic medicine (a system of medical practice that aims to combat disease by use of remedies producing effects different from those produced by the disease). If your heart is beating too fast, you are given a drug to slow it down. If you have a fever, you are given a drug to reduce the temperature. If your blood pressure is too high, you are given a drug to lower it. And, if you have an infectious disease, you are given an antibiotic.
Thus, the entire system is based on treating symptoms, although this is not necessarily a cure for the conditions. Worse, the emphasis on attacking symptoms often removes focus from the root causes, and, as all drugs have side effects, additional conditions (complications) can ensue. As the dominant modality is treatment of symptoms, the notion of a “magic bullet” achieves overarching importance. A magic bullet is a supposed miracle cure—often expensive—that can reverse a lifetime of neglect. It could be liposuction, a heart bypass, or a liver transplant given to a long-term alcoholic.
While heroic intervention to save lives is certainly admirable, it is far more costly than prevention, and the practice of true health care—namely the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Although statistics on this are hard to come by, it is at least intuitively compelling to credit the decreased incidence of heart disease to better diets and exercise, rather than any allopathic medical intervention. The problem is that there is no money in prevention, unless you were to include the proliferation of expensive radiological diagnostic procedures such as mammograms as “prevention.”
Here again, the public is being sorely misled.
These techniques prevent nothing. All they do, sometimes at least, is to allow an earlier diagnosis of a serious condition. For example, if a mammogram shows an early breast cancer (earlier than a woman could have determined via self-exam) her five-year survival FROM THE DATE OF FIRST DIAGNOSIS is statistically more favored. That’s all. There are very limited statistics on whether the cure rate is actually affected.
Under some circumstances, an earlier diagnosis and intervention can arrest metastasis (the cancer spreading), but this, too, is prevention under a strange definition indeed. One would think that with the billions per year being spent on cancer research, some decent preventive measures—that would prevent contracting the disease in the first place— could have been garnered. Yet, all we have, and this is unchanged since about 1964, is “don’t smoke.” Arguably, this has been expanded in recent years to include “exercise and eat right, also.”
Two other complicating factors include rapacious plaintiff’s attorneys, such as the unlamented John Edwards, and the unfortunate situation whereby a hugely disproportionate amount of health care funding is spent in the last six weeks of life.
Health care, as practiced in the United States, is a unique service in which everyone expects the best, but has no idea whatsoever of how this is to be judged, and expects someone else to pay for it. The most obvious way for good old American ingenuity to prevent a total economic meltdown on this issue would be massive governmental intervention promoting all aspects of prevention, and to subject alternative and complementary medicine (using the best of various modalities) to rigorous NIH-sponsored clinical trials.
Maintaining the status quo will only lead us all to the poorhouse.