President John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO is putting the full force of ten million union members and three million union retirees to win healthcare for everyone by 2009. This will bypass present union-employee contracts, state-funded healthcare, private insurance, and individual responsibility.
The average household can get along without insurance, or only catastrophic insurance, until the adults are in their senior years. My parents had three children. The older two were healthy; the youngest was the only problem. A steamroller was parked on the beach. I climbed to the top, jumped off and broke my arm. I dove into a shallow pool and damaged my nose. My sister and her friend took me to a park and played on a swing. I walked from one side to the opposite side and had a concussion. I had appendicitis. At ten years old I had epilepsy. Pills took care of that but lessened my ability to resist infection. We took care of that with attention to the problem. All of this sounds serious and expensive. It was neither. My parents could not afford insurance but could afford to pay our modest bills. I suspect the increased costs today are partly because of insurance. If the money is available, it will be demanded.
Many want healthcare, but they should not ask the federal government to take charge. We are about three hundred million people, a lot of people, difficult to put into categories, and the federal government is famous for inefficiency. States are able to provide healthcare and do. Minnesota has a program that will take care of the health needs of low-income families and will charge only what the recipient can pay. I have never heard a criticism of the program. I assume all states have similar programs.
When we read or think of healthcare we seldom think of doctors, assuming they are content in their work. That is not always the case. The family physician is the first connection for medical treatment but he could be harder to find in the future. Graduating medical students are not encouraged to enter family practice. Salaries are determined by politicians or insurance companies, and the doctor or hospital can do no more than complain. In comparison with specialists, the family doctor takes second place.
Even among well-trained specialists, there is an exodus to better paying work. Scott Haig, M.D., writes of a cardiologist who gave up his practice to remove hair from ladies' private parts; a pathologist who made more money than his medical practice gave him by selling magnetic water; three anesthesiologists who became financial analysts. Cosmetic surgery pays well, and any physician can enter the field. Operating diagnostic machines brings in a good income, often better than the surgeon who performs the operation, and the analyst has no liability. Then there are trivial maladies for which there are no remedies: headaches, backaches, aching feet, fatigue, anxiety. Clever doctors take note and their patients come back again and again.
Add to the above the cost of liability insurance. Lawyers are waiting and watching for unhappy patients who are ready to sue their physicians for enormous amounts of money. If my memory tells me correctly, one of the Democratic candidates for the presidency made a fortune through liability suits, the one who has $1200 haircuts. In the current year, out of 3,600 health-related bills, 26 medical insurance bills have been introduced in state legislature, but several states have ruled that putting caps on claims is unconstitutional. Senator John Ensign, (R-NV), says the present Democratic majority in Congress does not bode well for reform in the national legislature. I have known surgeons who have been tempted to leave their practices because of the cost of liability insurance. "The total cost of defensive medicine to our society is an estimated $50 to $100 billion per year." (Stuart M. Butler, Heritage Foundation.)
Added to the difficulties of doctors is the astounding increase in medical costs that have been legislated by Congress. Economist Tracy L. Foertsch says income taxes would have to rise by almost 40 percent to cover retirees' health and pension benefits. Edward Feulner of the Heritage Foundation says that by 2050 total obligations for Social Security and Medicare will be $38 trillion. Add the national debt and the liabilities for each household in the United States will be $440,000. Notwithstanding these incomprehensible figures, a report in 2001 estimated that an additional $317.9 billion was needed to discharge committed obligations. What the estimate is today I do not know.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, 2/16/2007, Daniel L. McFadden lauded the Canadian health system. We pay $6,102 a person a year for healthcare, but Canada pays only $3,165. He implies that the Canadian system is better and we need improvement. Our system does need improvement, but not along the Canadian or British style. You can hear a weekly program on television about medical practice in Britain. Politicians build hospitals and citizens look for treatment, but do not get it promptly. The World Health Organization says around 10,000 British people die of cancer each year for lack of treatment. In Canada, waiting for treatment for oncology takes only 4.9 weeks, but orthopedic surgery 40.3 weeks, plastic surgery 35.4 weeks, and neurosurgery 31.7 weeks. Private clinics, by law, are forbidden to provide services covered by the Canadian Health Act. In British Columbia a surgeon can be fined up to $20,000 for accepting a fee for an operation. A couple of hospitals in Washington are wooing patients across the border for Canadians who are tired of waiting for medical treatment. Cleveland is Canada's hip-replacement center.
The field for medical payments should be leveled. Those whose payments are paid by the employer are tax exempt. So should the payments by individuals be tax exempt.
The mortgage interest deduction made it easier for people to buy a home and all America benefited. Similarly every worker should get a deduction for health-insurance premiums. (W.S.J.)
We should legalize tax-free saving for possible future healthcare costs that could grow over the years and become a part of an individual's estate.
Hillary and the other Democratic candidates for the presidency are all in favor of the federal government taking over healthcare of everyone in the country, joining President John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO. They seem to think that, if you advocate big ideas, you are doing something helpful. The opposite is closer to the truth. John Stossel wrote:
The average American doctor now spends 14 percent of his income on insurance paperwork. A North Carolina doctor we interviewed had to hire four people just to fill out forms. He wishes he could spend that money caring for patients. . . . The paperwork is part of insurance companies' attempt to protect themselves against fraud. Many people do cheat. They lie about their history or demand money for unnecessary care or care they never received. *
"In the midst of this wealth poverty increased, for the same variety and freedom of exchange that enabled the clever to make money allowed the simple to lose it faster than before." --by Will, Durant The Life of Greece, p. 465,
We would like to thank Colonel Joseph H. Grant for supplying The St. Croix Review with the quotations at the end of each article.