Health reform: It’s time for Congress to grow up and do their jobs

Health – /helTH/ – The state of being free from illness or injury

Care – /ker/ – The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, and protection of someone or something.

System – /’sistəm/ – A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.

It’s not keeping us Healthy, it doesn’t seem to Care, and it’s certainly no kind of System. What we’re got is more about hostile parties protecting their turf and income than a system that’s working together. The docs fight the insurance companies to get things covered; the patients fight the hospitals over inflated, inscrutable bills; the insurance companies fight the pharmaceutical companies over the eye-popping prices of new drugs. The people least suited to fight end up losing the most — that’d be the “patients.”

Meanwhile: The peeps we’ve hired to fix this mess are too busy trying to make each other look bad — which, by the way, is like shootin’ fish in a barrel these days, amirite? — to pass some kind of legislation to even begin to help fix this fine mess. Ever get hired to do a job that you don’t do for 2 or 4 or 8 or 20 years? Didja keep that job? Mind: boggled.

OK, in the spirit of angering everyone involved, so I can bask in the flames of Democrats and Republicans alike, I will now specifically criticize the approach of both parties. Those of you with strong loyalties may want to skip the next (Democratic) or following (Republican) paragraphs, lest you be exposed to a worldview that’s not aligned with your own. But for the few of you left who are still capable of seeing two sides of an issue, start here:

Democrats: Obamacare has problems. The insurance marketplaces in many places are collapsing, and premiums are going thru the roof. Even people who have “insurance” often have huge deductibles that they can’t afford. In short: just having “insurance” isn’t the same as “having access to health care.” Obamacare didn’t do a thing to rein in the biggest problem: health care costs too much, and too many people (sorry, “market stakeholders”) are chewing up huge slices of the pie without contributing anything useful to helping patients. I know you’re feeling hurt that you lost the last election, but can you please grow up, talk to the other side, and come up with some common ground to start to address the problems?

Republicans: The free market, alone, cannot save health care. The barriers to entry are too huge (it’s hard to become a doctor, harder to open up a company to manufacture medicines, and even harder to open up a hospital) — which means competition is artificially stunted, and won’t pop up automatically to reduce prices. Also, emergency departments are required, by law, to offer care to people who cannot pay; that’s morally the right thing, and don’t even think about removing this safety net. Health care choices are also difficult and fraught, and often made under the duress of pain and worry. People cannot be expected to call around to different ambulance companies to check their prices when they’re experiencing crushing chest pain. You have to admit: Health care is unique, and you can’t depend on free market principles, alone, to fix it. The solution is going to include regulations and guidelines and (gasp) some guarantees of coverage, and might even require ways to rein in insurance companies, hospital, doctor, and pharmaceutical profits. I know you’re feeling giddy that you won the last election, but can you please grow up, talk to the other side, and come up with some common ground to start to address the problems?

It’s not easy, I know, but at this point, it’s clear that members of both parties aren’t keeping their eyes on the ball. Your job isn’t about re-election, and payback, and “If you play with Susie than you can’t be my friend anymore.” This isn’t kindergarten, and we don’t really care who plays with Susie; we just want Susie and her family to have access to affordable, good health care. Congresspeople, it’s time to grow up and do your jobs.

Roy Benaroch is a pediatrician who blogs at the Pediatric Insider. He is also the author of A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child and the creator of The Great Courses’ Medical School for Everyone: Grand Rounds Cases.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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