Monday, July 6, 2009

Health Care - Mirror of Nations

One of the most fascinating aspects of world values is how respective governing systems affect the national health benefits of their citizens.

It is true that the governments of China and the USA couldn't be more different. And yet, as human entities, they share an identical and profound fundamental need--- that is, to provide a standard of care for their citizens, to maintain a strong base of stable national health.

The same critical human needs, yes, but manifested in such different ways!

Central control in China is direct and simple--- a need is identified by those in power, a decision is made, and finally the plan is revealed to the people.

At the other end of the world political spectrum, in the USA--- the war over a national health plan is pure media drama, followed with all the publicized fever of professional sport events.

China's Health Plan...

With such an enormous and diverse population, their challenges seem overwhelming. And yet, China is continually rolling out a powerfully-implemented central health plan.

In 2003, as a test, the plan was limited to a few counties. Now, China is implementing the plan nationwide. Their success has astounded many global naysayers, and won applause worldwide. It gives hope to many other nations.

In rural areas, the government matches individual pay-ins, often less than $2 USD a year. In part because the government controls medical costs and service prices, this plan works in China. As medical treatment costs rise per expense of operation or medication, the government pays upwards on a sliding scale of percentage.

In the old days of China, a single serious illness often wiped out an entire family's life savings. This is happening now in the United States, and elsewhere as well.

President Obama's Battle...

Meanwhile, in the USA, two parties historically compete for public support. The Democrats have now achieved a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and the fight is rapidly heading for critical mass.

President Obama has declared that August 8 is his deadline for Congress. In the name of national health care, he demands that the lawmakers approve a plan that must cut health costs, while offering health care to 50 million (presently uninsured) citizens.

President Obama said that his plan is "an important tool to discipline insurance companies" and yet he has "legitimate concern" for the ability of Insurance Companies to compete and survive. "The public plan must collect premiums and provide [good] services like private insurers, then private insurers should have no problem competing with a public option."

The president said that he was hopeful that an efficiently run public plan ultimately would help push private insurers to make similar cost-cutting moves.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, denounced the President's plan, calling it "a death knell [for private insurance] because it changes the dynamic" of the marketplace. It makes the referee and the player the same person. And when the referee and the player are the same person, if you're on the other team, you lose."

Rep. Price and his colleagues are supported by big companies like UnitedHealth Group Inc., of Minnetonka, Minnesota, and WellPoint Inc. of Indianapolis. With media and lobbying, they hope to win over some of the Democrat majority.

What about the Europeans?

Often acclaimed as the gold standard of national health care, France's relatively low costs and high levels of service, are instructional. It wasn't easy. The French struggled to reach this near-ideal system.

One of their chief and most-successful strategies was to enlist their insurance companies to participate, rather than to exclude them.

Presently, in the USA, the insurance companies, with their Republican allies, are fighting President Obama with every media and lobby tool that money can buy. Their very survival, they believe, is at stake.

The so-called Single Payer system is their greatest enemy, they believe. If the government (the Single Payer) negotiated for their services, they would be forced to reduce costs, profits, and services, they argue.

Proponents of Single payer point out that health costs might be drastically reduced with Single-Payer clout by one entity--- the health plan administrators.

The French health-care system, involving several combined insurance plans, is very different from those in the UK, in Sweden, or Norway, or others, which are essentially Single Payer plans.

Germany and the Netherlands have also enlisted their insurance companies in their plans, with success.

President Obama might well succeed with this type of compromise. Maybe he's keeping something similar in his hip-pocket?

Cutting Health Care Costs?

Across the globe, the focus on medical costs isn't exclusively aimed at the insurance company profits alone. Other avenues are being urgently explored.

Experts say that medical expenses can be drastically reduced in some specific areas, with no loss of quality of treatment.

For example, its long been observed that in surgery, CRNA's (Anesthetists) do the critical operating room regimens, maintaining life during surgery, while Anesthesiologists serve mostly as very expensive non-operating figureheads.

Oncology nurses, surgical techs, and Nurse Practitioners, also have the necessary skill and knowledge to treat many cases--- although the public assumes such knowledge to be the sole arena of much more expensive MD's.

The reduction of costs can be done in these areas without reduction of treatment. However, in this disastrous economy, adjustments must happen. And there may be a severe attrition--- by loss of doctors no longer required.

A Human Right?

Whether we look at China, France, India, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, or the many other great or small nations... in our world, our human family, there is indeed a standard of moral conscience, regarding universal health care.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a United Nations imperative, agreed upon by world powers in 1948: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.”

Next issue--- focus on India.

India's medical costs are just 5% of GDP, and only a fraction of this is public spending.

With minimal insurance, a vast population, and public health care overworked, India stands out as a leader in ground-breaking cost-cutting medical techniques. But is it better?

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