Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And that's all I have to say about that

Ok, one final post on health care and then I promise to get back to our regularly scheduled programming.. like posts on how to teach multiplication and get beans out of your toddler's nose. Simultaneously.

We've covered why mandated health insurance is unconstitutional here and here. And we've discussed whether children should be insured by the government here.

For my final post I'm going to delve into the reasons I think offering free health care for children will actually make our health care system worse, not better.

The optimistic view behind public health care is that there are folks around the country who don't go to the doctor when they need to because they lack health care benefits. Then, when their situation has become emergent, they go to the ER. Since they are uninsured, they get a massive bill. Since they can't afford it (if that's the case) they get government assistance in paying it. This is expensive for the taxpayer.

Public health insurance would solve this problem by giving said citizen the means to see the doctor at a regular appointment, which is less expensive. Sounds great!

Here is the inherent problem: we the people do not value that which we do not pay for.

So. Suppose a young woman has a child. That child comes home from school with a bad cough and a fever. The woman has free government health care, so she could set up an appointment for the child the next day. If she knew that an ER visit would cost her more, she would probably call her nurse or her mom for advice, and take the child in the next day. But going to the ER is free, and it means not missing any work the next day for a bothersome doctor's appointment.

So she heads for the ER. Why wait for an appointment when you can get free ER care?

If you think I'm exaggerating, think again. I knew a young woman once who took her son in to the ER for everything. Bloody noses, coughs, upset stomachs. The law says she can't be turned away, so the ER doctor would treat him. For free, since she couldn't pay the bill. And then she had the audacity to complain about the wait times.

This happens all. the. time. I haven't been to the ER very often, but with my last pregnancy I did end up there one night (a story for a different time, but it was an emergency). As I waited for the doctor I listened to the nurses in the hall talking about this very problem.

They had a great idea. Every hospital would employ a doctor to work the ER and weed out the true emergencies. So, when you show up, a doctor sees you immediately and assesses your condition. If you truly have a life-threatening emergency or serious illness, you stay and are treated. If you have a cough or a tummy ache, you are turned away, with a phone number to call and make an appointment.

You are not being denied care. You are being offered good care, just not in an emergency facility. Because you do not have an emergency.

ER costs and wait times would drop dramatically. No one would die. Employee morale at hospitals would go up. I overheard one nurse say, "I'm so sick of treating people who aren't sick. Half these people just want doctors notes so they can skip work tomorrow. If I had a nickel for everybody I treat here who doesn't have an emergency, I could retire."

There is much, much more to be said on the topic, but I don't want to drive away my audience with tedium. To read up more on the subject, you can check out this site or this one.

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