How to Fix the US Healthcare System
By: Aneesh L. Gupta
The most interesting thing about health care is the fact that no matter what we do, the overall amount of money spent on health care will never decrease. As medicine improves and increases our average lifespan, we will each require more medical care into those extended years, thus necessitating even more spending on medicine and other treatments. (This does not even take into account the impact our increasingly aging population is going to have on all aspects of health care.)
In our current system, the only thing we can do is mitigate the rapid increases in spending we have witnessed over the past few years. In other words, everything possible needs to be done to return increases in health care spending to a level that is equivalent to or, if possible, less than the rate of inflation.
Without some aggressive action by our national and state governments, our country has the potential to receive a rating even lower than the AA we acquired a few months ago. In a time where many Americans believe that a smaller government is the answer to our problems, I actually believe that more government intervention is perhaps the only thing that can bring our country back from the brink of bankruptcy.
I will not lie to you and tell you that I have all the answers necessary to solve our current situation. In fact, I would say that no singular person in the world has all the answers. Our situation is incredibly complex, which is compounded by the fact that the key metrics of health care are not revenue and profit, but instead extension of life and improved quality of life. Below are a few ways that I believe can improve our current situation:
1. Pray that the individual mandate does not get repealed – A huge portion of our health care problems would be solved if the individual mandate remains constitutional. Young, healthy people always think that they will never need medical attention. But the fact is, all of us will need medical attention at some point in our lives, and spending money now is extremely important in order to save money later. Think of it this way: if you need insurance to drive a car, why should you not be required to have insurance for your health?
2. Rethink end-of-life care – Our culture has an irrational, albeit understandable, desire to be immortal. One day, technology may get us to the point where we can live for hundreds of years, but at this time, we will only live for about 80 years. Billions upon billions of dollars are spent on end-of-life care, most of which extends life by mere days, if not hours. It makes sense that people have a hard time letting go of their loved ones, but once a person is past the point of medical care, options like hospice care should be seriously considered. If you are not a fan of hospice care, consider this: hospice care often extends life longer than standard allopathic medical treatments, and allows people to die with dignity in their own homes instead of in hospitals with a variety of tubes protruding from every orifice of their body. Recent studies even suggest that Hospice care extends life for metastatic lung cancer patients for the same amount of time as one of the leading treatments, Avastin.
3. Reform Medicare/Medicaid – I am under the firm belief that we do not have enough money to spend as we currently do on these government-run programs. Therefore, two drastic changes need to be implemented. This could be accomplished through an organization such as England’s NICE, which determines which treatments are cost-effective. Additionally, we need to start incentivizing preventive care so that individuals become more responsible for their own health, and do not rely on a system that “bails them out” of situations that could have been avoided in the first place.
4. Get rid of for-profit insurance companies – I am a die-hard supporter of capitalism, but it is baffling to me that companies can make money by withholding medical care from individuals that may benefit from it. In addition, the insurance industry has made it crystal clear that they are incapable of making health care affordable.
People are wary of big government, but they fail to realize two different things. One, government in our country is nowhere close to as involved as governments in most European countries. We spend an astonishing 16% of our GDP on healthcare, while these European countries all spend less than 8%, and yet we rank FAR behind them in most measures of overall health. Two, the for-profit industry has proven beyond any doubt that they are too reckless and money-driven to promote any sort of solution with regard to health care. The ironic thing is that the for-profit industry would be in terrible shape without our government! If not for the billions with which the government refinanced Wall Street, we would be having a recession far worse than the one we are experiencing now.
The government’s only motive is the betterment of the people they represent. I believe that we have one of the most incorruptible governments in the history of the world, and we should trust them. If we fail to try new and innovative ideas, we doom ourselves as a primitive society. But if we recognize what needs to be done, no matter how different it may seem, we can be an intelligent society. We can be a society that has flourished for more than 200 years and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
Aneesh L. Gupta is currently a medical student at The University of Queensland School of Medicine in Brisbane, Australia.
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