Matt Yglesias points to another right-wing ad attempting to scare people away from health care. The ad shows people standing in line to see a movie and says that if we had government-run health care, we’d have to stand in line to see a doctor.
The first comment: “So, with a true free market system, we’ll no longer have to wait to see a movie?”
I’m fascinated as to what planet the maker of this ad lives on. Back in December I called my primary care physician’s office to schedule an appointment. I got one in mid-March. Such is life. Waiting times are, obviously, a function of supply and demand. The private sector could easily organize an insurance scheme that made it much quicker and easier to get in to see your doctor — your premiums and/or copayments would just need to be way higher. Similarly, just as a government-run subway system can reduce crowding by spending more money to run more trains, a government-run health care system featuring long waiting times for MRIs could . . . spend money and buy more machines.
A couple of weeks ago, an article in that shameless socialist rag Business Week argued that Americans already are waiting longer to get health care.
The lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans spells it out in a rebuttal to Sicko: “The American people do not support a government takeover of the entire health-care system because they know that means long waits for rationed care.”
In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems. Take Susan M., a 54-year-old human resources executive in New York City. She faithfully makes an appointment for a mammogram every April, knowing the wait will be at least six weeks. She went in for her routine screening at the end of May, then had another because the first wasn’t clear. That second X-ray showed an abnormality, and the doctor wanted to perform a needle biopsy, an outpatient procedure. His first available date: mid-August. “I completely freaked out,” Susan says. “I couldn’t imagine spending the summer with this hanging over my head.” After many calls to five different facilities, she found a clinic that agreed to read her existing mammograms on June 25 and promised to schedule a follow-up MRI and biopsy if needed within 10 days. A full month had passed since the first suspicious X-rays. Ultimately, she was told the abnormality was nothing to worry about, but she should have another mammogram in six months. Taking no chances, she made an appointment on the spot. “The system is clearly broken,” she laments. …
…There is no systemized collection of data on wait times in the U.S. That makes it difficult to draw comparisons with countries that have national health systems, where wait times are not only tracked but made public. However, a 2005 survey by the Commonwealth Fund of sick adults in six nations found that only 47% of U.S. patients could get a same- or next-day appointment for a medical problem, worse than every other country except Canada.
The Commonwealth survey did find that U.S. patients had the second-shortest wait times if they wished to see a specialist or have nonemergency surgery, such as a hip replacement or cataract operation (Germany, which has national health care, came in first on both measures). But Gerard F. Anderson, a health policy expert at Johns Hopkins University, says doctors in countries where there are lengthy queues for elective surgeries put at-risk patients on the list long before their need is critical. “Their wait might be uncomfortable, but it makes very little clinical difference,” he says.
The Commonwealth study did find one area where the U.S. was first by a wide margin: 51% of sick Americans surveyed did not visit a doctor, get a needed test, or fill a prescription within the past two years because of cost. No other country came close.
Prepare to be terrorized, shocked, scared out of your wits. No, not by jihadists or Dementors (you do read “Harry Potter,” right?), but by the evil threat of … universal health insurance! The more the presidential candidates talk it up, the wilder the warnings against it. Cover everyone? Wreck America? Do you know what care would cost?
But the public knows the American health-care system is breaking up, no matter how much its backers cheer. For starters, there’s the 46 million uninsured (projected to rise to 56 million in five years). There’s the shock of the underinsured when they learn that their policies exclude a costly procedure they need–forcing them to run up an unpayable bill, beg for charity care or go without. And think of the millions who plan their lives around health insurance–where to work, whether to start a business, when to retire, even whom to marry (there are “benefits” marriages, just as there are “green card” marriages). It shocks the conscience that those who profit from this mess tell us to suck it up.
I do agree that we can’t afford to cover everyone under the crazy health-care system we have now. We can’t even afford all the people we’re covering already, which is why we keep booting them out. But we have an excellent template for universal care right under our noses: good old American Medicare. When you think of reform, think “Medicare for all.”
Medicare is what’s known as a single-payer system. In the U.S. version, the government pays for health care delivered in the private sector. There’s one set of comprehensive benefits, with premiums, co-pays and streamlined paperwork. You can buy private coverage for the extra costs.
Health insurers hate this model, which would end their gravy train. So they’re trying to tar single-payer as a kind of medical Voldemort, ready to destroy.
Quinn argues that this expansion of Medicare would not require raising taxes. But even if it did, “your Medicare plan would probably cost less than the medical bills and premiums you’re paying now.”
Here’s what she says about waiting lines:
No advanced country has waiting periods for emergency surgery or procedures that are urgently needed. The United States has shorter waits than Canada and England for elective surgery. Still, queues are developing here, at the doctor’s door. In a study of five developed countries, the Commonwealth Fund looked at how many sick adults had to wait six days or more for an appointment. By this measure, only Canada’s record was worse than ours. But waits depend on how well a system is funded, not with the fact that it’s single-payer. Many countries that cover everyone, including France, Belgium, Germany and Japan, report no issue with waits at all.
How much longer will we have to wait for health care reform?