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A Closer Look at the Healthcare Situation

ve8QAd   |   October 01, 2009

Sarah Capewell’s son is dead in-part because of Britain’s nationalized health care system. Little Jayden was born premature at 21 weeks and 5 days after conception. Had he been born two days later, doctors would have worked to save his life. But the cutoff age for a premature baby under Britain’s National Health Service rationing guidelines is 22 weeks. Forty-eight hours denied Jayden the lifesaving healthcare that he needed to live. Even without it, he breathed on his own for two hours before dying. In spite of his mother’s pleas with doctors to save his life, they refused to offer even the most remedial care—granted saving Jayden would have been a strenuous, uphill fight.

The above, earlier email to friends of Life Issues Institute, demonstrates that this and worse are what we can expect if President Obama successfully imposes government-controlled healthcare on American citizens. Do we really need such drastic changes? Even ABC News in June 2008 reported that 89% of Americans were satisfied with their healthcare, and there are good reasons. One is the availability of twenty-four hour first-class care, almost anywhere. And the other is that if you have a serious ailment, your chance of surviving in the US is better than anywhere else on the globe. This is why over 400,000 foreign patients come to America for medical treatment. Yes, we have problems, but in the overall, our care is far superior than anywhere else.

During the last decade, the two biggest breakthroughs regarding diagnosing and caring for patients are computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Stanford University reports that the US has twenty-seven MRIs per million Americans, while Canada and Britain each have six per million. The US has thirty-four CT scanners per million, while Canada only has twelve per million and Britain has eight. The use of these remarkable diagnostic machines has become routine in the US. In other countries it is an exception or a privilege.

But let’s look at stories claiming that overseas care is better. In the Sept. 2007 edition of Lancet Oncology, survival rates for Americans and Europeans were compared. For all cancers, 66% of American men and 64% of women survived for five years, while in Europe the figures are 47% and 55%. Again, 99% of men with prostate cancer in the US survived five years compared to 77% in Europe. For those with colon or rectal cancer, survival rates were 65% in the US and 56% in Europe. For breast cancer it was 90% for Americans and 79% for Europeans.

Looked at from a different angle, mortality for breast cancer is 52% higher in Germany than in America and 88% higher in the United Kingdom. Compared to the US, prostate cancer mortality is 600% higher in the UK and 460% higher in Norway, while colon-rectal cancer deaths in both sexes of UK citizens are 40% higher. In Canada, breast cancer mortality is only 9% higher than in the US, but prostate cancer is 184% and colon cancer 10% higher.

Why is this? Treating cancer successfully is largely due to early diagnosis and treatment, and using the best available drugs. The US does an excellent job on all three of these parameters. In the US, preventive diagnosis takes priority. Nine out of every ten middle-aged women have had a mammogram and 96% have had a Pap smear. Over 50% of men have had a PSA test for prostate cancer, 30% have had a colonoscopy.

Since most advances in medical care—including 90% of the research and development of new drugs occurs here—Americans are the early beneficiaries, frequently several years before their international counterparts. Newt Gingrich recently gave a good example:

“A 3-year-old boy was recently diagnosed with a rare, aggressive, soft-tissue cancer in his bladder. Radiation treatment would have stunted the growth of his pelvic bones, hip and bladder and left him disabled. Radical surgery could remove his bladder, prostate and portions of his rectum. That would have left him impotent, using a colostomy bag, and urinating through another bag in his abdomen.

“His parents chose a new therapy where a proton beam precisely targeted the radiation dose so that it didn’t cripple their son for life. The boy is now cancer-free and his body functions normally.”

This treatment would not even be thought of in other countries.

Let’s look at commonly used statin drugs—used for reducing cholesterol. This major advance in treatment has sharply reduced deaths from heart disease, strokes, etc., but while they are commonly used in the US, only 36% of the Dutch, 29% Swiss, 26% German, 23% British and 17% of Italians have access to these drugs.

But aren’t these drugs expensive? Yes, and it is reflected in the fact that 17% of our gross national product is spent on medical care. But we benefit from them immeasurably. In the 1960s the chance of dying in the US immediately after a heart attack was 30 to 40%. By 1975 it was 27%, by 1984 19%, 1994 10%, and today it is about 6%. How about coronary heart disease? In the 1970s, the fatality rate was 448 per 100,000 people. Today it is 135. These numbers are stunning.

And yet the World Health Organization still rates US healthcare as 37th in the world behind Malta, Morocco, Cyprus, Colombia, and just ahead of Cuba. How this ranking was achieved is not explained, but it is simply a farce to keep repeating it.

Let’s look at one other parameter. We are told our infant mortality rate is higher than much of the rest of the world. E.g. the Dutch have a much lower rate than us, and they have full national socialized medicine. Why? This answer is easy. We count infant life from the first breath taken after delivery, and if a child dies after that, it is listed as a death. Holland and some other countries don’t count infant deaths until twenty-four hours after delivery. Others register babies below a certain weight automatically as a stillborn, so we are comparing apples and oranges. In fact, our infant mortality rate is probably almost the lowest in the world, bested only by certain Scandinavian countries which do not have the large percentage of low income, poorly educated immigrant population that the US does.

Overall, there is more good news. If you are an American who is over 80, you’re more dependent on medical care than ever before. But still, you have a better chance of seeing 90, or even 100, than those in other countries.

Fraud and Waste?
According to President Obama, a large percent of the so-called savings that he is relying on would be achieved by eliminating “hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud” from Medicare. In a recent column, Charles Krauthammer said, “That is not a lie. That’s not even deception. That is just an insult to our intelligence.” He noted the editorialist, Meg Greenfield, once said waste, fraud and abuse were “the dread big three” which Krauthammer added, was “the all-purpose piggy bank for budget savings [that] has been a joke since Jimmy Carter first used it in 1977. Moreover, if half a trillion is waiting to be squeezed painlessly out of Medicare, why wait for healthcare reform? If, as Obama repeatedly insists, Medicare overspending is breaking the budget, why hasn’t he gotten started on the painless billions in ‘waste and fraud’ savings? Obama doesn’t lie. He merely elides, gliding from one dubious assertion to another. This has been the story throughout his whole healthcare crusade.”

Baucus Healthcare Bill
Without a single Republican vote on the committee, Senator Baucus has offered an 856-billion dollar plan to replace the original Obamacare. Doug Johnson, Legislative Director for National Right to Life, says it provides “massive federal subsidies directly to both private insurance plans and government-chartered cooperatives that pay for elective abortions. It requires that a specific charge must be included in the premiums paid, by those who enroll in such subsidized plans, of at least $1 per enrollee, per month, which amounts to a surcharge specifically for elective abortions. Funds spent by federal agencies are, by law, federal funds. The claim that under these bills, a federal agency would use ‘private funds’ to subsidize abortions is absurd on its face-a political hoax.”

This bill uses 6-billion tax dollars to set up health insurance co-ops and provides absolutely zero limits on how much can be used to pay for abortions. In addition, the Baucus bill allows the government to determine that abortion is a “mandated benefit” as part of a minimum benefit package, and this would apply in any situation in which the federal Medicaid program could pay for an abortion. While giving a nod to the Hyde Amendment restricting funds through the Dept. of HHS, it still allows a “qualified health plan” in an insurance exchange to be free to provide coverage for all abortions.

The proposed 40-billion dollars in new taxes on medical device manufacturers is the same amount of venture capital that this industry now spends on research. The result would be that no new research treatments will be forthcoming.

How many of our readers know that a significant percent of physicians do not accept Medicare patients? The reason is that the doctor can’t afford to treat them because Medicare payments are so low. In the face of this, these proposed plans would cut Medicare funds by nearly a one-half trillion dollars. The inevitable result of this will be sharply reduced care for seniors, otherwise known as rationing. Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell had it right when he said it “puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses, to create yet another thousand-page, trillion-dollar government program.” It requires everyone to purchase health insurance and penalizes those who do not. This penalty for an individual begins at $750 a year and increases to a fine for families of up to $3,800 a year. Unbelievable? Yes, that is what the bill says.

And here is another sleeper. Under these bills, Medicare physicians who are in the top 10% of cost to the government each year will lose 5% of their total reimbursement for that year. This will drive doctors to relentlessly limit tests and treatment to stay under the limit. This is a cruel form of healthcare rationing and people will die. No wonder polls show that up to one-third of physicians may retire if this bill becomes law.

So What Should Be Done?
First of all, let’s sink these thousand-page monstrosities in the depths of the sea and start over. This reorienting of one-sixth of our entire economy is simply bad for seniors, tax payers and the United States as a whole. It would reduce the level of our care to that of most of the high tax, low healthcare European nations. It would drastically limit the excellent level of care that now exists, and would essentially choke off the ongoing research and remarkable medical advances that have continued to enhance and lengthen our lives.

So what should we do? In place of Obamacare there are several major things that Congress could adopt that would go a long way toward removing some of the present inequities:

  • Tort reform — It is not generally realized that the tort bar with its malpractice cases against physicians and healthcare providers has increased the cost of medical care by approximately 30%. This has enriched malpractice lawyers. Some of it goes for paying judgments, but the overwhelming percentage of this cost goes to vastly increase the defensive medical tests that doctors now order to cover their own possible liabilities. Thorough reform could all but eliminate malpractice activity in the US. Yes, there are medical mistakes and some people are injured, but it is possible to set up panels of arbitration to insure that any awards go to the patient injured and not to a malpractice attorney. Are you aware that these federal bills do not even touch tort reform?
  • Health insurance today can only be sold within that state, which curtails competition. We need interstate portability and Congress could accomplish this in a single statute. It would dramatically lower some of the high cost of medical care in certain states. Right now, the very same procedure might cost two to three-times more in one state than another. Interstate competition would eliminate this.
  • Pre-existing conditions. If you have them you may not be able to get health insurance. But there are ways around this, including healthcare vouchers, without adopting a suffocating, one-size fits all federal mandate.
  • Let’s stop paying for healthcare through our employers and replace it with the wildly successful Health Savings Accounts. Under these, each person gets an “allowance” and is free to use it for healthcare, with the unused portion staying with the individual.
  • The conscience rights of all Americans must be respected. Further, we need laws to insure respect for human life by not funding or mandating abortion as a healthcare benefit.

The minimum bottom line for pro-lifers is this: If President Obama is serious about preventing funding for abortion in healthcare reform; he should immediately adopt amendments to these bills specifically excluding any and all support for elective abortion.

America has many years of experience with healthcare. As a result, we enjoy by far the best healthcare system in the world. We live the longest and have the most effective, medical care devices. So let’s enact the suggested reforms above and observe their effectiveness for the next few years. Concentrate on first fixing what we know is wrong and can be fixed. And by all means, continue to give charity care to those unfortunates among us who have no insurance.

Finally remember that the loud cry today of being “uninsured” does not mean such people have not been cared for—they have. Everyone who needs help gets it in emergency rooms throughout the nation. Improvements can and should be made, but without demolishing the entire system. In the process, we must protect innocent human life.

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