Another Missed Opportunity?
Legend has it that Yogi Berra was fond of describing some situations as “déjà vu all over again.” The same can be said about efforts to reform the U.S. health care system – an issue that dates back much further than Bill Clinton’s failed effort in 1993.
President Barack Obama recently observed that “since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform nearly a century ago, we have talked and we have tinkered. We have tried and fallen short, we’ve stalled for time, and again we have failed to act because of Washington politics or industry lobbying.”
Another Teddy (as in Kennedy, the late senator from Massachusetts), was said to have regretted not cutting a deal on universal health care with President Richard Nixon shortly after his re-election more than any other issue as a lifelong legislator. The Watergate scandal swiftly put the kibosh on national health care, which the Liberal Lion would later call the cause of his life.
Fast forward to 2009 when the nation’s first African-American president kicks the dust off this seemingly noble goal and tells lawmakers he wants a bill on his desk by the end of this year. What transpired over the summer during scores of town-hall-style meetings in congressional districts across the nation was nothing short of breathtaking. This is what makes democracy so awe-inspiring, regardless of one’s political affiliation.
But there’s a dark side to the so-called debate, which degenerated into a disrespectful shout down at several meetings from zealots armed with robotic talking points and lots of assumptions about what might happen– a shameful display of decorum that came full circle when U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) called his rude interruption of Obama’s speech on the subject a town-hall
It all happened to coincide with rapper KanyeWest grabbing the mic from Taylor Swift at the MTV Music Video Awards to praise one of her competitors and tennis sensation Serena Williams’ profanity-laced tirade at the U.S. Open, but of course I digress about the kind of hard-bitten society we’ve become. Still, whatever happened to Old Man Bush’s vision of a “kinder, gentler America?!” Guess we’re not there yet.
Now back to the point at hand: Failing to take action, even in the face of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, will result in much more personal misery and suffering, deplete critical national resources and undermine the U.S. standing on the world stage.
We’re paying far too much for health care services – a major investment that’s not producing meaningful outcomes relative to other nations or, put another way, dividends in the form of healthier and happier citizens.
The fact is that we need to do something about a national obesity epidemic that’s spiking the number of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and associated conditions in children, which is very alarming. We’re living longer, but our quality of life is declining. And our fast-food-nation culture promotes a pill for every ailment under the sun.
Let’s not be pennywise but dollar foolish about this issue, which I’ve been covering this year with great passion for a monthly business trade magazine. Nearly everyone has a health care horror story to tell, whether it’s a botched medical procedure, inability to afford rising out-of-pocket costs or lacking insurance, altogether.
Republicans are right when they complain that doctors are forced to practice defensive medicine and there’s a shortage of primary care physicians because they’re being paid based on volume and not quality of care measures. A factory mentality has taken hold across doctor offices and emergency rooms. It’s downright Dickensonian. Medical providers have every reason to feel frustrated. But Democrats say malpractice claims make up a mere fraction of the nation’s health care tab, which accounts for about 16% of Gross Domestic Product.
This tit-for-tat game is being played out on virtually every detail associated with health care reform. And it’s becoming mind-numbingly annoying to informed people like me who expect more for their tax dollars. We need for our elected leaders to transcend partisan bickering and do something about a looming crisis.
In spite of what ends up happening (if anything at all), we all have a moral responsibility to take much better care of ourselves. Government alone cannot solve whatever is ailing society. The key to success is a partnership between citizens and those in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. It’s such a simple formula.
Why aren’t we accomplishing anything? It’s like we’re all sick in the head. Which brings me to another issue: mental health. Stress is said to cause about 85% of all physical ailments. So we need to be sure that any reform efforts address the need for parity on this issue as part of a holistic approach.
Far-Eastern medicine is gaining credence in Western culture, and it’s high time we step beyond our borders for lasting solutions to our health and well-being. There’s already a trend afoot called “medical tourism” in which cash-strapped Americans are seeking lower-cost surgeries and better outcomes abroad. I also realize that Canadians, British and other citizens of socialized
medicine wait in frustratingly long lines and gripe that the quality of their care is not up to par.
I have already professed in a previous blog that the health care reform issue is highly complex. There’s no magic bullet, and I can’t say with certainty which approach is best. But let’s use our collective common sense, listen more carefully to one another and be willing to take some chances to reverse our downward spiral.