A few days ago, while awaiting the Supreme Court ruling on the Obama health-care law, I called a few doctor friends around the country. I asked them if they could tell me about current patients whose health had been affected by a lack of insurance.Even inexperienced physicians like me, still in my residency, have these kinds of stories to tell. They’re tragic. But worse, they’re just so stupid. Notice how, in each instance, the problem still ends up being taken care of, only now it’s emergent, farther along, more risky, and of course, more expensive to treat. This is part of the ludicrous nature of the opposition to health care reform. There is no way to get out of paying for these things. All we do by denying people coverage for necessary medical treatment is guarantee that in a few days, months, or years, they’ll be in the emergency room, only now it will cost ten times as much to fix, at greater risk to the patient. This is also backed up by the international experience of health care. Every other industrialized country has universal coverage, many have far superior care, not to mention superior service (France anyone?) to the United States. Yet every one of the countries pays far less per capita (most less than half) than we do on health care. Data from studies within our own country show it’s cheaper for the state to cover the uninsured than to let them stay uninsured. Because of EMTALA, passed by that notorious socialist Ronald Reagan, everybody gets emergency care whether they are insured or not, and fully 50% of emergency care is uncompensated, costs which get transferred to the insured and the tax payers.
“This falls under the ‘too numerous to count’ section,” a New Jersey internist said. A vascular surgeon in Indianapolis told me about a man in his fifties who’d had a large abdominal aortic aneurysm. Doctors knew for months that it was in danger of rupturing, but, since he wasn’t insured, his local private hospital wouldn’t fix it. Finally, it indeed began to rupture. Rupture is an often fatal development, but the man—in pain, with the blood flow to his legs gone— made it to an emergency room. Then the hospital put him in an ambulance to Indiana University, arguing the patient’s condition was “too complex.” My friend got him through, but he’s very lucky to be alive.
Another friend, an oncologist in Marietta, Ohio, told me about three women in their forties and fifties he was treating for advanced cervical cancer. A pap smear would have caught their cancers far sooner. But since they didn’t have insurance, their cancers were only recognized when they caused profuse bleeding. Now they required radiation and chemotherapy if they were to have a chance of surviving.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Not taking care of the ill is stupid
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