Thursday, July 9, 2009

Health care complaints

I read Mark Steyn quite a bit because I am sympatico with his free speech crusade and some of his views about Islam. However, I am tired of his tirades against a government-run, single-payer health care system as we have in Canada.

Steyn is Belgian born, raised in Canada and, by choice, lives in New Hampshire, U.S.A. where the state slogan, he tells us proudly, is “Live free or die.” When it comes to health care, Steyn is all for pocketbook health care. He who has the biggest wallet gets the best care. He who has little, well, just sucks it up.

I have been reading this guff from him for quite some time. Then I came across this eyebrow-raiser from a blog, called “The Corner”, which he carries on his website. This is Steyn writing about his personal situation after a description of a woman who died from a bedsore in a hospital in England.

When we quote stories like these at NRO, we get a lot of e-mail saying these are just "anecdotes." And yes, if you look on yourself as being part of a government health system of millions of people, getting a bedsore and dying in hideous pain is no big deal in the scheme of things. But I look on myself as being part of the Mark Steyn health system. So if I get a bedsore and die, as far as I'm concerned, that's a 100% systemic failure. The difference between government health care and a private system is that, under the latter, you're free to say, "This dump's filthy. I'm going to the state-of-the-art joint five miles up the road." You may have to get out your checkbook, but ultimately the decisions are yours.
In a government system, the decisions are the bureaucrats', and that's that. My father is currently ill, and the health "system" is doing its best to ensure it's fatal. When an ambulance has to be called, they take him to a different hospital according to the determinations of the bed-availability bureaucrats and which facility hasn't had to be quarantined for an infection outbreak. At the first hospital, he picked up C Difficile. At the second, MRSA. At the third, like the lady above, he got septicaemia. He's lying there now, enjoying the socialized health care jackpot — C Diff, MRSA, septicaemia. None of these ailments are what he went in to be treated for. They were given to him by the medical system.

So, best-selling author, ubiquitous media guy, has a sick father that he leaves to the attention of the health care system he claims is terrible and he blames that system for his father’s additional medical woes.

What are we to make of this?

If his father was in a U.S. hospital he wouldn’t get hospital-induced diseases?


Well, perhaps less likely if dear old dad was in some super-expensive private clinic. So why doesn’t Steyn have him in one of these preferred settings? Doesn’t he like him that much, or is pop not as trusting of the U.S. medical system as his son is?

Oh, right, it is those drawbacks. You know. You have to pay for it, either directly or through some outrageous insurance premiums. Doubtful that Steyn would have a policy that covered his father, so it is out of pocket for him. He talks about it, but doesn't mention actually doing it.

Now, I don’t know about the great man’s personal financial situation, although I imagine he is not doing that badly, but I would venture that the sight of the doctors pulling into the clinic’s parking lots in their new Ferraris, kissing their buxom trophy wives goodbye, and lugging their new Callaway golf clubs into the physicians’ locker room for an early start on the fairway after a short stint of warm-up surgery caused a sharp guy like Steyn to consider how that lifestyle gets financed and just how many hundreds of guest gigs he would have to do on the Rush Limbaugh show to keep those patient-first docs happy enough to attend to dad.

Much better to continue to let people like me pay for his father’s care and then write nasty columns about what a fool I am supporting such a system.

Well, don’t worry yourself, Mark, I don’t mind in the slightest paying for your Dad, and I hope he suffers no further set-backs and gets better soon.

I am going to go out on a limb here and make a little wager. Our Mr. Steyn frequently comes back to Canada for speaking engagements and such. I bet you he takes the opportunity to pop into doctors' offices here for health check-ups, because it costs him nothing. I would be very surprised if he did not continue to carry a Canadian health card with him just for that reason. I know a number of ex-pat Canadians who shit all over Canada and then pull this stunt.

I wonder why Steyn thinks there is some difference between a U.S. hospital administrator and a Canadian one. Is there really that much to choose between a government bureaucrat and an insurance company one? Would it be the ties?

In Canada, his father was taken to several hospitals. In the U.S., if he had a health insurance policy, it would likely have dictated which hospital he could use if he wanted the insurance company to foot the bills.

I recall watching a television documentary on The Learning Channel called Misdiagnosis. It related the experience of several Americans who were allegedly misdiagnosed by American doctors.

I say alleged because one of the stories concerned a self-employed man of 42 years of age. He was married with children and his wife had a job with a company that provided its employees with health coverage through a third party insurance company.

The man started to have an unusual number of bowel movements each day and his stool was bloody. He sought medical attention under the terms of the policy and a battery of tests was performed and medicines were prescribed. Nothing cured the problem for two years. Then his wife got a new job with new medical insurance and it covered a colonoscopy (not covered in the previous plan). He had the colonoscopy and found that he had colon cancer. He was living for two years with colon cancer because of inadequate health insurance coverage.

That was not a case of misdiagnosis; that was purely non-diagnosis.

In Canada, colonoscopies are routine examinations performed as part of normal physicals for people of a certain age and are readily available for anyone else who has suspicious symptoms. They are covered under the government paid health plan.

This spring I had an occasion to talk about health insurance with a technician who fixed my air conditioning in my Florida house. He was 45 years of age, married and had two children. He had no health insurance. He didn't think it was that big a deal and then he said that his wife was run down by a car and taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where, in addition to her cuts and bruises being patched, she was given an MRI.

I suggested that that was as far as it went because then they discovered she had no medical insurance and so she got no follow-up treatment. He kind of stepped back for a moment at that and it dawned on him that I was right. She was handed a copy of the MRI and summarily shown to the door. In Canada, she would have been kept in the hospital overnight to ensure that nothing was missed. And contrary to all the crap about misuse or non-use of MRI's in Canada, if one were available she would have had it right away for a car accident. We do use triage here.

Speaking of misdiagnoses, a few years ago in Florida my arm suddenly swelled up with painful inflammation. I checked into the nearest hospital. I used my credit card at the front door when I registered in. I was shown into a waiting room. After a while, I was ushered into an examination room. Shortly thereafter, a doctor came to see me. He diagnosed bursitis. I thought I had been bitten by an insect from the appearance of the swelling (a bright red dot in the centre where it was most painful) and the suddenness of the appearance of the condition.

Nope. Absolutely bursitis says the doc, laughing at my insect diagnosis, and sells me an arm sling for ten bucks and writes a prescription for a common anti-inflammatory drug.

I go to a pharmacy and discover that the medication costs more than twice what it would cost in Canada, so I don’t bother with it. After a few days, the swelling subsides. I confer with my mother who suffered for years from bursitis. That is not bursitis says she. Then a termite inspector walks through the house and notes that I have a nest of black widow spiders in the corner of the ceiling of my bedroom.

Eventually I get a detailed bill from the hospital. It was not outrageous but it also was not cheap. What caught my eye were the line-items. I was charged so much per hour for my wait in the waiting room. Then I was charged at a different rate for the time I spent in the examination room. There was a charge for the consultation with the doctor and a charge for the writing of the prescription.

If I were a hospital administrator using this kind of a billing system and if I wanted to boost my hospital’s income, I would be making sure that people waited a little longer before a doctor appeared on the scene, and if I did that, I would be just like Canadian hospital administrators (or bureaucrats as Mr. Steyn prefers).

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