America's Cruel Health Care System


Most Americans may read British writer, Adrian Gill's last column before his death from cancer and label him a fool or a socialist out to get a last bit of attention. I read it and thought of a man that looked at his options and decided he'd rather die humanely than live a little longer chasing expensive health care services. This notion that people would do anything and pay any amount of money to access medical care is not universally held after all. Some people prefer universal health care even if it means they may wait longer to see a doctor or die a few weeks before their time.

Americans don't have to agree with Mr. Gill that universal health care with all its warts is better than the alternative—American-style health care. But we should have the option of accessing health care at the same base level, instead of the country club system we have now. We are fooling ourselves if we think that America's private system of health care is better than the national system in the United Kingdom. It's not. The system may not provide access to some prescriptions that are available in the U.S., but at least what they do offer is available to everyone. And besides, what's the point of having available prescriptions, if you cannot afford them.

We like to paint the national health insurance programs offered in other industrialized countries as lotteries or death panels, but they are neither, and we know it. They are egalitarian systems where access to health care is not dependent on social class, income, race or geography, and many Americans think it should be. We not only think it should be, but we also make sure that it is by placing poor people in one health care program and signaling to doctors that it's okay if these people get less care or no care at all.

As explained in a
recent article by Virgil Dickson, a survey by the Cancer Support Community concluded that "cancer patients with Medicaid coverage receive poorer quality and less healthcare than those with employer-sponsored, Medicare or other private insurance." Low reimbursement rates and required prior authorization make it hard for these patients to find a cancer doctor who will treat them in a timely fashion. How is this any different from having to wait weeks to see a doctor in the U.K. or Canada?

So, we go on pretending that we have the best health care system in the world. But that depends on how you define "best." By many accounts, it is one of the worst and least humane systems anywhere. As Gill said, there are treatments that allow you to
"stretch more life, a considerable bit of life. More life with your kids, more life with your friends, more life holding hands, more life shared, more life spent on earth—but only if you can pay."

But the cruelest thing about the American health care system is how it is forced upon us by well-funded and well-organized groups who have duped us all into paying for a system that most benefits the wealthy. Let them pay for unbridled health care innovation; the rest of us deserve the option of basic universal health care.

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