Health Care

Take a quick look at the table below.  Which of these two countries would you prefer to live in for health care?

Country A Country B
Ranked #1 by World Health Organization Ranked 17th
“avoidable mortality rate” (# of people under 75 years old who die from CURABLE diseases) – 1st (least # die) Last place – 17th out of 17 develop countries (highest number of people die)
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 (how many more years a person can expect to be relatively healthy after 60)- first Last place
Infant mortality (babies who die within first year) – less than 3 per 1000 More than 6 per 1000
Per capita health care spending $3,500 Per capita spending $7,000 – double
Typical office visit $27 (patient pays $5) Typical office visit $50-100 (co-pay of $15 at least paid by patient)
One set of fees for every procedure for every person clearly displayed in doctor’s office Doctor and hospital fees vary by person by location.  Never know cost of service at time of service
Average person goes to the doctor 8 times per year 5 visits on average
(in 2007) person with a $20,000 income paid a premium of $12 per month Insurance premiums typically hundreds (if not thousands) of $ per month
More doctors and hospitals per person Less
No deductibles Deductibles
Cannot have a claim for medical care denied Claims regularly get scrutinized and denied
Admin fees 5% of medical spending (for every dollar paid for health care, 5 cents goes to non-medical expenses) Admin fees 20% of medical spending (4 times as much money goes to expenses not related to caring for your health)
Comparable wait times to get an appointment Comparable wait times
One card that has all of your medical history Files at different doctors, hospitals, etc. not shared with others
You may go to any doctor or hospital you wish Must stay within a network of doctors or pay higher fees
Don’t have to go to a general practioner to get permission to go to a specialist Must go to your general practioner to get permission to see a specialist
Private doctors, insurance provided through work, private and public hospitals Same

I think most of us would pick “Country A”.  Well, that is France.  Country B is the USA.  The information is from a fabulous book by T.R. Reid called “The Healing of America”.

I knew our health care system was screwed up.  I just never knew how bad.  We spend way more money with people living less healthy lives and more babies die.  BTW, we are the ONLY developed country in the world that does not provide health care to every person in the country.

Why do we accept this?

Some say “those other countries have socialized medicine”.  Would you rather have their results or ours?

Some say, “we can’t be like France”.  Do you prefer their health outcomes or ours?

Some say, “we have profit-making insurance companies that need to pay share owners”.  Do you like the other countries’ outcomes or ours?

Some say, “Those other countries make people wait longer to see a doctor and they have “death panels” that deny coverage to old people”.  Yet the USA has the worst ratings on life expectancy, infant mortality, avoidable mortality and healthy life expectancy at age 60.  So in my mind what we have must be worse than the “waits and death panels”.

Some say, “Are those all of the facts or just selective facts?”, or, “you can’t prove those outcomes are solely caused by heath care.  Their are other factors (poverty, culture, etc.)”.  To that I say, are you really pleased with American health care?  Do you have facts that point to the greatness of our health care system?  Do you think it is important for us to do better – NOW? Do you think that the wealthiest country in the world, the home of the free and the brave, ought to provide basic health care for its citizens?

I am currently in the middle of the administrative nightmare that is American Health Care.  Anthem’s systems (my health care provider) have my health care through school terminating on the wrong day.  We have bills from June 2014 that are wrong.  In order to get them fixed, I have to get my former employer to tell Anthem the right date, Anthem to update their systems, then contact my doctors to re-invoice me, then have Anthem recalculate, then get a new invoice, and finally pay the correct amount.  As a fact, this would NOT happen in any other developed country of the world?  Why?  First, they all offer universal health care.  The fact that a person stopped working does not stop that person’s health care in their country.  Second, in most countries there is one cost for a procedure no matter where it is done, who it is done for.  So the amount of the bill would be known.  Third, we have the admin costs of my former employer, Anthem and the various doctors’ offices to sort out the problems.  They only have admin in place to do one thing – pay the bills.

For my vote, our health care system is embarrassing.

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The “Other” Side

I’ve been thinking about “the other side” of things recently.  What is the “other side”?  It is the part of people and situations that we do not look at.  It is the unknown side.  It can sometimes be very uncomfortable because it does not conform to our perceptions and ways of looking at the world.

Rose and I went to see the movie “Theory of Everything”. It is about the physicist Stephen Hawking in his early years. I don’t know much about Hawking. I know he is a world famous physicist. He is a brilliant man. He is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak due to a neuro-muscular disease. But I am not really interested in physics or in his theories (I have not read his book). I know that from a social standpoint he is often the butt of jokes that I find disgusting (much like Helen Keller jokes). But beyond that, I never really give him much thought.

“The other side” that this movie brought out was that he is a human being. He has a family. He was a father, a husband, a son and a brother. His physical condition troubled him deeply. He had a life before he became paralized. His theories were groundbreaking. He somehow had the ability to write a best selling book despite not being able to type or speak. There is a lot more depth and breadth to this human being than we give him credit for.  Kinda cool to see the other side of this man.

There was a recent short film on ESPN about the Russian Hockey team that was beaten by the Americans in the 1980 Olympics. We all know the “Miracle on Ice” story. Plucky group of USA amateur college age kids are molded by the curmudgeon, unpredictable coach to beat the best hockey team in the world. It is the greatest sports upset of all time. A true American story of working together and having faith in each other despite huge obstacles.

But what of the Russians? As I knew them, they were basically “professionals” in a time when only amateurs were allowed to play. They were the pride of Russia who beat professional hockey teams regularly, were multiple times World Champions and had beaten the USA 10-3 a week earlier. They were an unstoppable force, a machine ready to claim another Olympic gold medal. They were the “proof” that the Communist system was the best. But we beat them.

Once again, this TV show gave us another side. These Russian athletes had to endure a lot. Their favorite coach was fired in favor of the coach for the KGB (Russian Secret Service) for no apparent reason. They were forced to live 11 months a year in a barracks away from family. They were under intense scrutiny at all times. Expected to win, with the pressure of the whole country behind them. They were all devastated by the loss.

Again, it was fascinating for me to see the picture from a different side. The Russians were just like us. A proud, close knit group of athletes. Best of friends. Playing for family and country.  Sacrificing significant parts of their lives for a cause they thought was important.

That gets me thinking. How often in life do we choose to only see one side of the picture?  How often do we see someone and make a snap judgment about them?  When confronted with a person or a situation, do we categorized them according to our perceptions without every considering their might be an “other side”?  Who do we ignore?  Who do we trivialize?  Might we be frustrated because others don’t see or ask to see our “other side”?  Isn’t it convenient to only see one side, and not have to consider that someone else may not be totally evil, or not a total idiot?

The New Guilded Age?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been doing a lot of ready.  Most of it is non-fiction.  One of the areas that I have spent a lot of time reading about is the 1920’s. If you remember anything about the 1920s from school, you probably remember it as the “Roaring 20s”.  This was a time of great prosperity in the United States as we grew into a world power after World War I.  The USA experienced a great growth while all of Europe was trying to overcome the devastation of WWI.  This was the beginning of the “American Century” – where we became the biggest and best in the world.  But the 1920’s shares a lot in common with today’s USA.  The 1920’s was the end of the “Guilded Age”, so called because the world was “glittering on the surface but corrupt underneath”.  Things looked good in many ways, but further investigation made you realize not so.

Here are some ways we are similar today to the 1920s

“The 1%”.  The 1920s was the time of JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and other rich men.  During their lifetimes, they were not much interested in mingling with the “little people”.  They were successful, as well as ruthless, business people.  Today’s 1% has an average net worth (assets minus liabilities) of over $2.3 million.  They have seen much higher % growth in income and net worth this decade than any other group of people.  We talk of a great divide between the very rich and the rest of us.

Immigration.  The 1920s experienced a change in the demographics of where immigrants came from.  Prior to that time,  most immigrants were from Western Europe (France, Spain, Germany) and Britain. Most of those immigrants shared a common background, language or religion with the people already in USA.  In the early 20th Century, most immigrants came from Southern and Eastern Europe (Italy, Hungary, Poland, Romania).  They were viewed as VASTLY inferior to Americans.  They were looked upon as taking advantage of the USA.  Only the lowest jobs were for them.  In addition, their darker skin color and general look was different from Americans.  Sounds very familiar to the way we look at immigrants from South and Central America today.

Sports stars bigger than life.  This was the time of Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden and Rocky Marciano.  Babe Ruth famously made more money than the President of the USA (“I had a better year than him”).  During this time, sports stars were worshipped by the masses.  Newspapers rushed to tell about their latest exploits.  Sound familiar?

Presidents.  The 1920’s had three Presidents.  Warren Harding was elected in 1920.  He was utterly unqualified and is ranked among the worst presidents ever.  During his time in office, we suffered from some of the worst scandals and had the only cabinet member ever federally indicted for bribery.  Harding was followed by “Silent Cal” Coolidge.  He is also recognized as one of the worst presidents by historians. Coolidge basically sat back and allowed the politicians to run the country.  Best Coolidge story ever (although they are not sure if it was true or not) is this.  A woman sat next to him at a party and said, “I win $100 if I can get you to say three words”.  Coolidge said, “You lose.”  The third President of the 20’s was Herbert Hoover.  He is remembered as the President that led us into the Great Depression. That is not a good thing to be remembered for.  Of the three of them, at least Hoover had a distinguished record of public service before becoming President.  The other two had none.  So far this Century we have had Bush and Obama.  I’ll let you decide what you think of those two.  Certainly neither had a distinguished or long record of public service before becoming president.  We’ve been in constant undeclared wars their whole time in office.  And they were President during the worst Depression/Recession since the 1920’s.  Seems to me to be pretty comparable.

The underclass.  The Guilded Age was a time of great poverty.  Child labor was endemic at that time, mainly because families needed the income.  As I spoke about earlier, immigrants were treated very badly for the most part, relegated to slums of the big cities.  Those that escaped the big cities were urged to move to the plains – Nebraska, Iowa, Dakotas, Oklahoma.  They moved there under the premise of being able to create great farms to feed the masses.  Unfortunately, the reality of cold winters, dry soil and drought made few of them more than substance farmers at best.

I found it quite interesting the parallels between those times and these times.  History does repeat itself.  The Guilded Age basic lasted from the 1880’s to the Depression hit in 1929.  What will take us out of our current Guilded Age?