Despite politicians and policy makers promising to fix America’s healthcare crisis for years, the issue remains one of today’s top social and economic issues.
From rising treatment costs to loopholes in insurance plans, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention priced our nation’s health expenditures in 2013 at $2.9 trillion dollars. To put that number in perspective, that was over 17% of the national gross domestic product, and just shy of the total $3.5 trillion federal budget in 2013.
Quite simply, we are paying too much for subpar medical care.
But if we strip away the politics, the healthcare problem could be easily solved in four simple steps:
1. Socialize Pharmaceutical Research
Big pharmaceutical companies justify their medication prices by citing how expensive it is to do research and get FDA approval. At the same time, their profits are astronomical.
According to research done by Reuters, U.S. prices for the world’s top-20 selling medications are an average of three times higher than in Britain. The recent outrage over Turing Pharmaceuticals raising the price of a lifesaving drug for a parasitic infection from $13.50 to $750 per tablet highlights the problem perfectly.
Healthcare should not be an arena where reckless profiteering can flourish.
The simple solution is for the government to perform medical research instead. Then, the pharmaceutical companies are simply manufacturing companies. Without their drug patents, prices would dramatically decrease. This would correct the overemphasis currently placed on researching profitable drugs—like the plethora of medications on the market for erectile dysfunction—instead of potentially lifesaving drugs that would provide the most benefit to the most people.
Back when I practiced veterinary medicine, I noticed that many of the same drug representatives that sold to medical doctors also sold to veterinarians. They would come in with charts and graphs, claiming it was nearly malpractice to use drugs with expired patents. Their tactic was to persuade you that the new drug with an intact patent was far superior. Before a patent expired, paying a few dollars per pill was common. After the patent ran out, the price would drop down to a penny. Through my years in private practice, it became obvious that the patent-free medications worked just fine. If we socialized research on medications, the financial motivation to coerce doctors into subsidizing the huge profits of pharmaceutical companies would be eliminated.
2. Utilize All Healthcare Professionals
There are plenty of medical procedures that simply do not require an MD. Chiropractors, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals are more than qualified to handle most routine procedures. However, the American Medical Association doesn’t want competition for its doctors, so it forces legislation to limit certain procedures to MDs, further driving up healthcare costs unnecessarily. Of course, MDs would be involved in setting up the system that would determine what procedures other healthcare practitioners could do, and they would also be available for consultation as needed.
3. Allow Interstate Health Insurance
People should be able to buy health insurance anywhere in the nation, not just within their own state. The competition would drive the price way down.
Why isn’t this already the case?
Insurance lobbies—plain and simple.
Protected from interstate competition by the McCarran-Ferguson Act, a policy put in place in 1945 and long outdated now, state regulated insurance plans have fractured our healthcare system into 50 messy, inefficient pieces.
It’s unsurprising that remedying this part of the problem is on the bill of every Republican presidential candidate running. A bill proposing interstate insurance sales has been in Congress since 2005. We’re long overdue to cross state lines for better medical care.
4. Tort Reform
We need tort reform regarding malpractice insurance. Medical malpractice lawsuits are a huge factor in skyrocketing healthcare costs. Not only do they cause insurance prices to rise dramatically, but they also force doctors to perform defensive medical practices in fear of malpractice suits. Certainly, if a doctor makes a mistake, there should be recourse in the courts. However, the judgments are at times so excessive that it drives the cost of healthcare way up. Orthopedic surgeons, for example, have to pay staggering amounts every year for their malpractice insurance. That cost is passed on directly to patients.
There need to be reasonable caps put on how much a physician can be sued for. The cap should be high enough to be a powerful motivation for physicians to be diligent beyond what is expected of them under the Hippocratic Oath. The millions paid in lawsuits beyond that reasonable point, however, do nothing to improve the quality of healthcare and instead only increases the cost to patients, to the benefit of attorneys.
It is well known that with the threat of litigation so high, doctors often perform tests to document a diagnosis they have already made. This just drives insurance and out-of-pocket costs even higher.
Furthermore, with insurance costs and the threat of litigation so high, many practitioners retire early or look for a position where the threat of lawsuits isn’t so high. The fewer the practitioners, the higher the fees—it’s simply supply and demand.
Healthier Healthcare is Within Reach
If these four steps could be implemented, the state of our healthcare system would be much improved. We need politicians with the courage and open-mindedness to bring about these reforms. Unfortunately, they face opposition from very powerful lobbies intent on upholding the rigid perspectives.
Those lobbyists have a very powerful card that can be played not only with the politicians, but with the public at large.
In a word, it’s fear.
They instill fear into the people that their healthcare quality would go down. Such intense emotions can perhaps be associated with no field more so than the medical profession, which holds the lives and health of our families in a tenuous grip. It is hard enough to fight the lobbyists in Washington D.C., but compounded with such emotional intensity, the challenge becomes almost insurmountable. No wonder health costs are so excessively high!
So What Can You Do to Help?
Of course, you can always write your congressman and senator. But to what extent that will really help is anybody’s guess.
More importantly, spread the word. Lawmakers respond to votes. As the number of people who understand what is going on increases, politicians are more likely to respond.
Unfortunately, perspectives have become so fanatically polarized, that the inevitable result is gridlock. Democrats, Republicans, extreme left, extreme right, radical conservative, radical liberal—all with little or no willingness to even consider the opposite perspective.
In such an environment, how can any progress be made?
The mentality has to change. Healthcare would be an outstanding starting place.
Consider your own viewpoint. For example, what is your perspective on ObamaCare? I think every reasonable person thinks that healthcare should be available to all the people. But digging in our heels as pro- or anti-ObamaCare creates gridlock. Whatever your perspective is, have the courage to consider the virtues of the opposite perspective. People cling to what is familiar and fear embracing what is not. We must overcome that fear and consider other perspectives as well.
A Shift in Mentality
What we are talking about here is a shift in mentality starting with healthcare. Helping society to become more open-minded begins with you. Thoughtful change begins with open-mindedness—expansion of consciousness—freedom from limitation, freedom from indoctrination, and creative thought.
Shifts in such cultural mentality do not happen overnight and are not the result of a militant approach. It’s a process. To make such a rigid mountain move, we all simply must join together and lean against that mountain. Then, over time, the mountain will move, the shift will happen, and a national mentality will emerge that is willing to look at all sides of the healthcare issue.
Author: Dr. Michael Mamas
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Chris Potter/Flickr