Friday, May 18, 2007

Give Me Liberty and Give Me Death

There's a great article over at The American Prospect (you have to sign in to read, but it's free) comparing healthcare systems in the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, and the VA system here at home. Of the national systems, France performs the best, though the VA system gets two thumbs up as well:

What makes this such an explosive story is that the VHA is a truly socialized medical system. The unquestioned leader in American health care is a government agency that employs 198,000 federal workers from five different unions, and nonetheless maintains short wait times and high consumer satisfaction. Eighty-three percent of VHA hospital patients say they are satisfied with their care, 69 percent report being seen within 20 minutes of scheduled appointments, and 93 percent see a specialist within 30 days.

Critics will say that the VHA is not significantly cheaper than other American health care, but that's misleading. In fact, the VHA is also proving far better than the private sector at controlling costs. As Longman explains, "Veterans enrolled in [the VHA] are, as a group, older, sicker, poorer, and more prone to mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse than the population as a whole. Half of all VHA enrollees are over age 65. More than a third smoke. One in five veterans has diabetes, compared with one in 14 U.S. residents in general." Yet the VHA's spending per patient in 2004 was $540 less than the national average, and the average American is healthier and younger (the nation includes children; the VHA doesn't).

This all sounds great, but, a la our last book selection, aren't lower costs, a seamless information system and better service too high a price to pay for the liberty we would sacrifice in doing away with our current free market system? For example, I'm in a new job now, and just switched insurance plans. Within two weeks I got three identical forms mailed to my house asking me to fill in all my treatment history information to make sure that the doctor's visit I had a few weeks back wasn't for a pre-existing condition that had existed for less than one year prior to the doctor's visit, even though no paperwork I filled out for the new insurance said anything about pre-existing conditions (in anything larger than 3.5 font, that is). So I filled out and mailed back the form twice, and then got a letter on Monday saying that, due to my failure to fill out and send back the form, my claims were being denied. But don't worry--I was on the phone yesterday for 15 minutes with the insurance company, and was able to fax them the info, and now I'm in the appeals process, which should only take about a month or so.

They can have my "Disclosure and Exclusionary Past Condition Form #A-34G67D2/BLN" when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.


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