Bad attitudes: healthcare reform and the $12 aspirin

In all of the back-and-forth armchair quarterbacking about last week’s healthcare ruling I have yet to see anyone mention the attitude problem:

Americans are unreasonable in our demands on the healthcare system.

Tara Courtland

Communications Director Tara Courtland

The real problem isn’t a government stalemate or greedy insurance companies or the cost of a pill. The heart of the problem is that we expect medical miracles and we’re not willing to pay for them.

Healthcare has two easy solutions.

1. Raise taxes and provide free world-class healthcare for everyone.

2. Forget free healthcare, cut taxes, cut insurance rates and accept that if you can’t pay your doctor, you’re not going to get treated.

We are unwilling to do either. We want everyone to be able to get a kidney transplant, whether they can afford it or not and whether they have health insurance or not. At the same time, we want budgets balanced, taxes cut, and insurance costs to stay low.

We can’t have it both ways. Both the left and the right agree that the Affordable Care Act is a patch for the system. It doesn’t solve the underlying problem, which is rising costs and rising expectations.

As hospital workers already know, the hospital isn’t charging you $12 for an aspirin just to gouge you. The $12 aspirin reflects the cost of running the entire hospital – including the woman who just got treated in the ER for free because she has no coverage at all. We’re not willing to let her die, but we’re not really all that willing to pay for her either.

The $12 aspirin also reflects the cost of the hospital’s new robotic surgery assistant that cost $20 million. That robot may improve your surgical outcome, but it costs money. We demand improved surgical outcomes but we’re irate about that $12 aspirin.

And your surgeon spent 8 (or 12) years in higher education at a top-notch public university, which has had major funding cuts, meaning his tuition has gone through the roof. He’s the best surgeon in the state but he’s got $300,000 in student loans so he’s looking for a job with a decent salary. We want the best surgeon, but not the $12 aspirin that trickles down to pay his salary.

We want our taxes cut so we demand spending reductions to balance public budgets, then we get angry about the rising cost of college tuition and angrier about the rising cost of healthcare and demand the government do something – like cut our taxes.

Our bodies were designed to give out by age 40 and we don’t accept that anymore. We expect to hit 80 in excellent health but that takes more than just clean water and a lack of sabertooth tigers – it takes doctors, smallpox vaccines, robotic surgical assistants, chemists, DNA mapping, microscopic analysis, labwork, pharmacists, electronic health records, medical transcription, coding, laparoscopic surgery, Natural Language Processing and a dizzying array of drugs.

All of that comes with a financial cost. The funny thing is that we accept rising costs in other areas with rising service. Your FIOS costs a lot more in 2012 than your dial-up connection did in 2001 but it’s infinitely faster, so you probably don’t even think about it. Your cable bill is higher than it was 10 years ago, but you get 500 channels instead of 40 so it’s okay. In 1990, the average cost of a new car was about $16,000. Today, it’s $30,000 but that car has front and side airbags, good fuel efficiency and iPhone hookups so you accept that it’s just better.

We also see those as luxuries – if we don’t want more channels at a higher cost, we can always give up cable. But we don’t see healthcare that way. We see the rising cost, but not the rising levels of service or our rising expectations for each procedure and for the entire system. Or we accept the rising costs for ourselves, but we don’t want to subsidize all those uninsured people, but we don’t want them left untreated either. And regardless, we don’t see it as a luxury.

If you’re supposed to grind to a halt at 40 and you’re still dancing at 80, everything in between is a medical miracle and those miracles aren’t free.

Good health may be priceless, but it costs a fortune. The sooner we accept that, the happier we’ll be.

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About Tara Courtland

Tara Courtland is the communications director at NEMT.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bad attitudes: healthcare reform and the $12 aspirin

  1. Susan Deckhart says:

    You make a good case for single-payer insurance. In a nutshell, it’s the insurance companies that are the problem. Healthcare is not a luxury, it is a human right.

  2. Interesting article! I’m just happy that we all, as a nation, are finally talking about our problems and not just ignoring them. Sometimes it just gives me a giant headache. Americans don’t typically just throw up our collective hands and give up though. We are problem solvers.

  3. Patricia Aloisi says:

    It can’t be denied that there is an attitude problem here. Certain political factions have used inflammatory speech, like death squads, job losses and the like to scare the nation. Raise the bloody taxes, provide decent health care and be done with it! Here in Maine we have plenty of workers from Quebec, loggers who get injured and will try their utmost to get back to Canada where they know they’ll be taken care of. They had what they called a hospital tax over 60 years ago, when I traveled there as a child.

    What galls me the most about the AHCA is that if the President doesn’t get a second chance, the House and Senate will pass most, if not all, of the initiatives proposed by this Administration.

    Governor Romney (Fmr-R. MA) might be repudiating his own Massachussetts inititive now, but if elected, he’ll most likely be the foremost advocate.

    Ironically, my own daughter benefitted from “Romneycare” when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33. She had purchsed the required insurance and I was present when she got notice from MassHealth denying any and all of the mounting bills.

    Apologies for sounding so political, but I’ve been involved as an ancillary in the medical community in one capacity or another for over 50 years, now working as a medical transcriptionist. I’ve seen more changes than I care to remember. Current insurance practices being what they are, I’ve seen solo practices with one secretary, nurse, medical assistant, etc. morph into multi-doc practices requiring five or more additional employees per practitioner to run the practice. One of the newer titles I’ve seen during this evolution is that of practice manager. Politicians should cease with touting this bill as job-killer.

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