Some Thoughts on the "Health Care" Debate

I’ve written posts earlier on this blog regarding the current “health care” debate, and some of this will be a repeat, but I think it is worth doing so. First of all, let me say that the term “health care” debate, as framed by the current national discussion, is a misnomer; it’s a “medical care” argument, not health care. If you want good health, eat right and get some exercise, and it won’t cost you very much. If you want medical care, go to a doctor. That’s what this is about.

But it’s also a shame that the Democrats in Congress and the major media have framed this question by implying that the government must have a massive input into it, and that no other options are readily available. There are plenty of other suggestions out there as to how to control rising medical care costs, but they are rarely heard, simply because liberalism dominates our government, media, and academia.

Well, I’m going to give you some of those other ideas as to how costs can be controlled. They aren’t original with me (except, perhaps, with one or two exceptions), but hopefully I can sum them up succinctly for my readers. So, here are some proposals to pursue before we let Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid take over one-sixth of the American economy (mom, it’s another reason I’m thinking of moving to Singapore).

1. Tort reform. Or, put another way, shoot all the lawyers. I knew a doctor in California who had to quit her practice because she couldn’t afford the malpractice insurance. If we’d put about 90% of the country’s lawyers six feet underground, we’d solve about 90% of the country’s problems. Let the AMA handle malpractice issues.

2. Health savings accounts. Give significant tax breaks for people to save money to cover minor medical costs. This won’t cover catastrophic illnesses, of course, but it could cut down on insurance costs if we pay for regular doctor’s office visits out of pocket instead of having a third-party (insurance company or government) do so. Also, how about a tax deduction for joining a health club? How about a significant tax deduction for people to donate charitably to hospitals to help cover the costs for the poor who can’t cover the expenses themselves? This is a very generous country, and we have a lot of millionaires. Encourage them, through incentives, to donate some of their wealth to medical care facilities (research as well).

3. Let insurance companies sell their policies across state lines. As it stands now, since I live in Tennessee, I can only buy health insurance in this state. And it’s the same in every state. Throw those laws out. Let’s suppose I could find a cheaper insurance policy in Wyoming. What do you think the insurance companies in Tennessee would do? Yeah, lower their premiums to meet the competition; either that, or go out of business. A little competition here could lower insurance costs significantly.

And while we’re at it, 4. Let doctors compete, too. Now what I’m going to start out saying here is going to sound ridiculous, but understand I’m being partly facetious and let me finish my point before you laugh too loudly. My appendix is hurting and I need an appendectomy. Rather than go to a doctor, I tell my best friend, “Hey, Joe, I need my appendix taken out. I’ll give you $100 to do it.” And Joe says “Sure. Give me a knife. Wheeeee….” So I let him do it. True, I probably wouldn’t survive, but what business is it of government to tell me I have to go to a regular doctor if I don’t want to? If I want to take the risk, it’s my riskk!
It’s called “freedom,” folks. If I want to eat junk, get fat, die young, who is Barack Obama to tell me I can’t do it?

Now, ok, let me finish. I’m being somewhat—but not totally—facetious here. Why must every “medical practitioner” have a medical degree? How many of us have never given anyone medical advice before? This past Monday evening, when I was feeling so horrible with depression (see “A Personal Note” below), I was talking to my mother and she suggested that, along with the sleeping pill the doctor gave me, I drink a glass of warm milk before I go to bed "to help you sleep” (sorry, mom, I didn’t do it. Didn’t want to get up three times in the middle of the night….). We all do that, occasionally, and some get better at it than others. In the 19th century American West, if you got shot by an Indian, chances are it was your buddy, not a doctor, who was going to take the bullet out (it was painful and he would have put a bullet between your teeth to keep you from cracking them with pain—hence, “bite the bullet”). But, your friend would remove the bullet (no, you didn’t always survive), pour some whiskey on the wound to cleanse it, stick a snotty hanky into the hole to cut down the bleeding, wrap it up with part of your shirt, and off you’d go. And I’m not being facetious about that. Home remedies were the rule then, not the exception.

Now, I wouldn’t suggest, in this day and age, that such would always be the best alternative. But why don’t we let people get a modicum of medical knowledge and let them help those who perhaps can’t always afford a professional? I don’t want to be a doctor, but I’d love to study some medicine, get some knowledge, and help people in smaller matters so they wouldn’t have to bother a licensed M.D., and thus leave the latter free to handle more serious cases (most of the time all the doctor is going to do is give you a pill anyway. Many people could learn enough to know what remedies could help with certain ailments. Pharmacists do it all the time.). I’m just simply suggesting here that, just as there are “degrees” of medical problems, why can we not have “degrees” of operatives to help diagnose and treat them? I don’t need to go to a doctor to tell me to drink a glass of warm milk before I go to bed to help me sleep; my mother can do that. Just think about it!

5. Let people work with doctors and hospitals on payment schemes. I had gall bladder surgery in 1996. My wife and I had no health insurance and the total cost was about $14,000. We paid what we could up front (about $900), and I made arrangements with the hospital to pay them $50 a month, which I am doing to this very day. Every month I send a $50 check to a hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, to cover that hospital expense. And I suspect, given the number of people who don’t pay anything, they are happy to get it. I have no idea how much I owe them; still a few thousand dollars, I believe. But I haven’t heard from them in years. And I’m going to keep sending that $50 as long as I’m alive or until I get it paid off. Doctors and hospitals will work with patients on matters like this (and if yours won't, go to a doctor who will, and the first one will, too, before long). And don’t tell me people can’t afford 25 or 50 bucks a month. If they can afford a cell phone, Internet connection, cable TV, booze, cigarettes, and eating out 10 times a month, they can afford a little money to pay for their own medical care.

But why should they if Barack Obama is going to force somebody else to pay for it? And to get back to a point I made earlier, if I want to eat junk, get fat, and die young, what business is it of the government? Well, the business is, of course, that the government has stuck its nose into the situation so that other people will have to pay for my sorry health when I get sick. Let me have to cover the cost out of my own pocket and maybe I’ll be a little more responsible in taking care of myself.

I wouldn’t suggest that the above solutions would handle all of the medical care expense problems this country has. But I would like to see what the free market and individual responsibility can do before we turn the best medical care system in the world over to unqualified, nameless, faceless bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. who make “one size fits all” decisions for everybody in the country.