"the brutal truth about america’s healthcare"

redsock guest post

It's no surprise that this story was published in media outside the US. From The Independent (UK), my emphasis:
They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could end up saving their life.

In the week that Britain's National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an "evil and Orwellian" example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been transformed – for eight days only – into a vast field hospital. In America, the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British people take for granted.

In the first two days, more than 1,500 men, women and children received free treatments worth $503,000 (£304,000). Thirty dentists pulled 471 teeth; 320 people were given standard issue spectacles; 80 had mammograms; dozens more had acupuncture, or saw kidney specialists. By the time the makeshift medical centre leaves town on Tuesday, staff expect to have dispensed $2m worth of treatments to 10,000 patients. ...

Christine Smith arrived at 3am in the hope of seeing a dentist for the first time since she turned 18. That was almost eight years ago. Her need is obvious and pressing: 17 of her teeth are rotten; some have large visible holes in them. She is living in constant pain and has been unable to eat solid food for several years.

"I had a gastric bypass in 2002, but it went wrong, and stomach acid began rotting my teeth. I've had several jobs since, but none with medical insurance, so I've not been able to see a dentist to get it fixed," she told The Independent. "I've not been able to chew food for as long as I can remember. I've been living on soup, and noodles, and blending meals in a food mixer. I'm in constant pain. Normally, it would cost $5,000 to fix it. So if I have to wait a week to get treated for free, I'll do it. This will change my life."

Along the hall, Liz Cruise was one of scores of people waiting for a free eye exam. She works for a major supermarket chain but can't afford the $200 a month that would be deducted from her salary for insurance. "It's a simple choice: pay my rent, or pay my healthcare. What am I supposed to do?" she asked. "I'm one of the working poor: people who do work but can't afford healthcare and are ineligible for any free healthcare or assistance. I can't remember the last time I saw a doctor."

Although the Americans spend more on medicine than any nation on earth, there are an estimated 50 million with no health insurance at all. Many of those who have jobs can't afford coverage, and even those with standard policies often find it doesn't cover commonplace procedures. ...

Many insane people in the United States (and not all of them are on the far right, by the way) are hellbent on attacking any proposed improvement to the US system, hoping to scare people into believing (among other things) there will soon be "death panels" which will pass judgment on who lives and who dies.

As the main story was from a UK paper, I was reminded of the recent claim by Investor's Business Daily that
if Stephen Hawking was British, he'd be dead. ... People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

The esteemed Dr Hawking was quick to point out:
I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.


impudent strumpet said...

Anyone know, or know how to figure out, how the actual cost of the medical treatments in the US compares with other countries? Like would the total of all those medical treatments (if they were all covered by OHIP, and allowing for exchange rates) equal $503,000 billed to OHIP, or more or less?

Would 17 tooth extractions cost $5,000 or more or less? I think four wisdom teeth cost close to $1,500, but they're still in the gums so it's surgery rather than a straightforward extraction.

L-girl said...

In general medical care is much, much more expensive in the US than in Canada.

Here, each province sets reimbursement rates for procedures. I may be getting the terminology wrong, but eg, OHIP determines how much a doctor is paid for procedure x, visit x, etc.

In the US those rates are set either by doctor or by private insurers. There are no price controls.

It will vary among regions - in an upper-income neighbourhood in NYC, doctors will charge way more than they will in a small town - but that's based on what the market will bear.

USians we know who paid for care out of pocket until their OHIP kicked in were absolutely floored at how inexpensive treatment was, and that was in Toronto.

M. Yass said...

And Jeremiah Wright was pilloried for saying "god damn America."

The more of these stories I read, the more I think that actually was a kind assessment.

James said...

The last set of stats about care costs I saw put the US's care as costing something approaching double France's per capita. I don't remember where Canada fit in, but it was closer to France than the US by a fair margin.

This whole mess is an excellent example of a "What's the Matter With Kansas" moment. The GOP has managed to scare a significant number of people into complete opposition to something that will definitely help them.

It reminds me of a comment made around the time of the first "Teabagging" demonstrations: "It's a bunch of people whose taxes will go down under Obama getting together to protest the fact that Rupert Murdoch's taxes will go up."

redsock said...

Mike Madden, Salon:

The future of healthcare in America, according to Sarah Palin, might look something like this: A sick 17-year-old girl needs a liver transplant. Doctors find an available organ, and they're ready to operate, but the bureaucracy -- or as Palin would put it, the "death panel" -- steps in and says it won't pay for the surgery. Despite protests from the girl's family and her doctors, the heartless hacks hold their ground for a critical 10 days. Eventually, under massive public pressure, they relent -- but the patient dies before the operation can proceed.

It certainly sounds scary enough to make you want to go show up at a town hall meeting and yell about how misguided President Obama's healthcare reform plans are. Except that's not the future of healthcare -- it's the present.