Thursday, October 15, 2009

Health Care Debate

Health care reform is a hot topic right now. Everyone seems to have an opinion and I am no different. I am against government-run health care because everything I have ever seen the government run has been far less efficient than privately-run equivalents, with the exceptions of the military (NOT the VA health care) and the IRS bill-collection department (those guys are amazing!). I don't like to use the clich├ęs of the Post Office and the DMV because it isn't fair to over-emphasize the obvious. So let me just mention the city building department and the California State Legislature. 'Nuf said.

As a pastor, I have known many people through the years who belong to Kaiser. I have found that there are basically two kinds of Kaiser members: (1) Those who love it and think it is the best thing since Dr. Kildare, and (2) those who hate it and think it is the worst thing since the DMV (oops, sorry, I said I wouldn't use that). The lesson? That anecdotal stories are not very helpful in determining the best way to go for health care. Kaiser is a private HMO (depending on which of the two categories above into which you fit, that stands for Health Maintenance Organization or Health Mutilation Organization), and no matter what kind of "reform" in health care we get, I suspect it will look a lot more like an HMO than not. Keep that in mind.

Much of the discussion over health care reform has centered on how other countries handle their health care. It has been said over and over again that America has one of the worst health care systems, and of the developed countries we are the only one without a universal health care system. Again, anecdotal stories of hell or nirvana are not helpful. The only thing that is helpful are facts measured broadly, and even those are suspect. Take statistics, for instance. Much is said about the life expectancy of Americans compared with citizens of countries where health care is universally available (and "affordable" but that is another discussion). The problem with the quoted percentages is that we have no way of easily determining if those figures are (1) accurate (they are usually put forth by groups that have an agenda, and yes, the World Health Organization has an agenda!), or (2) clean (comparing apples to apples and not apples to crabapples). Take life expectancy for example. The numbers include murders and automobile accidents. Deaths by these factors do not necessarily reflect on the nation's health care system. Murders in the US are much higher than in the UK, for instance. I read one source that said if murders were factored in, Americans would have the highest life expectancy of the industrialized world. Or take infant mortality. In the US, the infant mortality rate includes those babies who are born to drug addicts and illegal aliens. I suspect that the UK (or even Canada) has much less of an illegal immigrant problem than we do. So statistics, as they say, can lie. Not that they always do, but we need to consider them properly and not just throw numbers around unqualified as though they prove our point.

With such a divisive issue, tempers are sure to flare, as we have seen. But the US Congress seems poised to pass some sort of health care reform. No doubt it will be quite the conglomeration of compromise and will probably please very few people. After all is said and done, caring for people will continue to be the main thing. How to pay for it is another matter altogether.