Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama's Healthcare Plan: Get in Line

My husband is a physician who sees patients five days a week, and he still has a wait time of at least four weeks to see new patients in his practice. He is the only specialist of his kind in the area, despite the fact that he practices in Massachusetts, the state with the highest percentage of physicans per capita. In addition, primary care physicians are leaving in droves, because the stress, time, and effort required of the profession eventually just beats them down. Primary care is a tough job, and there are not a lot of new physicians coming out of medical school who want it.

In the Presidential race, we have heard alot of the two candidates' plans for revamping the healthcare system in America. Obama's ultimate plan is for a universal system. He would add 47 million people to the ranks of the insured, including the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country. With the exodus of primary care physicians in an already overstressed environment, who is going to take care of all of these new patients?

Ultimately, it's a simple issue of supply and demand. We saw what happened when the Democrats forced banks to lend to unqualified buyers through the Community Reinvestment Act. Suddenly a huge number of people who were not eligible to purchase a house in the past entered the buying pool. Increase in demand for homes, without a commensurate increase in supply of houses, led to a bubble in which prices rose faster than at any time in history. A similar phenomenon will arise with Obama's plan for universal healthcare, except this time the end result will be rationing. An increase in patients, without a commensurate increase in healthcare providers, will result in much longer waits to see your physician, to get that CT scan, or to receive surgery for that stent.

And this does not even address the cost of providing care to 47 million new patients. Americans are used to receiving the best the world has to offer in healthcare technologies. They demand the latest in drugs, some of which cost upwards of $300,000 per year, MRI's at will, antibiotics for the sniffles. NO universal healthcare system in the world allows such extravagances. With a larger pool of patients, and costs which continue to spiral out of control, Americans will be forced to drastically alter their view of what kind of healthcare they "deserve". That drug for breast cancer, which given early might save your life, will be out of reach until terminal stages of the disease, when it's too late. The line for by-pass and other life saving surgeries will result in the deaths of some people who just cannot wait. I saw this first hand when my cousin from Canada came to America on vacation and suffered a heart attack while in Boston. He was rushed to the hospital, received surgery, and 20 years later, is still alive. Had he been in Canada when he suffered that heart attack, he states that he would have died waiting for the life saving surgery. He thanks God every day that he was in America when his heart failed.

In an environment of limited resources, there arises the scariest and most subjective form of rationing; that of who most "deserves" to receive a specific therapy or surgery. Who will get thrown overboard- the young immigrant with his whole life ahead of him, or the 72 year old woman with diabetes and high blood pressure? The government will effectively take on the role of God and decide who gets to live and who dies. Are Americans really willing to put their lives, and the lives of their parents and children, in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank?

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