Health care

I haven’t done much on it lately, but longtime readers of my strip will remember that the American health insurance system, and the inevitable necessity of a single-payer system, have been ongoing themes of mine for many years. It’s an obsession borne of personal experience — I haven’t had a “real” job since 1989 or so, and given the peculiar American linkage of health care with employment status, there have been long periods where finding health insurance was rough going.

These days, of course, businesses are starting to balk at the unreasonable costs of health insurance. The irony there is that — as I understand it — business fought labor to retain its status as the primary provider of health benefits some sixty or seventy years ago, in order to maintain greater control over the workforce. At any rate, the notion that the free market is the best system under which something as basic and necessary as health care can be provided is utter and demonstrable nonsense, even as George W. (“W” is for “Who the hell cares what happens to you?”) Bush continues to bring up the hoary old canard of “Washington bureaucrats” deciding what health care is right for you. Donald Bartlett and James Steele explain it all in today’s New York Times:

The explanation for this abysmal record is one that politicians decline to discuss. The market functions wonderfully when we want to sell more cereals, cosmetics, cars, computers or any other consumer product. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in health care, where the goal should hardly be selling more heart bypass operations. Instead, the goal should be to prevent disease and illness. But the money is in the treatment – not prevention – so the market and good health care are at odds. Just how much at odds is seen in the current shortage of flu vaccine, as men and women in their 80’s and 90’s line up for hours at a time, hoping to get the shot they have been told they need, but may not receive because not nearly enough has been manufactured.

The reason for the shortage is this: Preventing a flu epidemic that could kill thousands is not nearly as profitable as making pills for something like erectile dysfunction, a decidedly non-fatal condition. Viagra, for example, brings in more than $1 billion a year for its maker, Pfizer. The profits to be made from selling flu vaccine are measly in comparison. If selling flu vaccine were as lucrative as marketing Viagra, sports broadcasts and the nightly news would be flooded with commercials warning that “winter is almost here; ask your doctor about flu vaccine” – and it would be available to anyone who wanted it. Instead, while many of those at risk of the flu go without the vaccine, primetime programs are sponsored by the makers of Viagra (“Get back to mischief”), Cialis (“Will you be ready?”) and Levitra (“Stay in the game”).

— snip —

What’s needed to control the costs and to provide basic health and hospitalization coverage for all Americans is an independent agency that would set national health care policy, collect medical fees, pay claims, reimburse doctors fairly and restrain runaway drug prices – a single-payer system that would eliminate the costly, inefficient bureaucracy generated by thousands of different plans. It’s not such a radical idea; a single-payer system already exists for Medicare.

Much more here. Go read.