The demonization of socialized medicine

Of late, doctor/friends on social media have taken to reposting news articles detailing the horrors taking place in other nations because of the evil scourge known as socialized medicine. In fact, the two words, alone or together, just don’t carry anything near the weight of the pain and suffering they imply, so I have taken to adding this exclamation point, in parentheses, to make it absolutely clear how terrible a concept the words are expressing. Hence, “socialized medicine.”

What is happening in those other nations, according to these articles, is quite awful. The articles detail the unhappiness caused by interminable wait times, where people with terrible injuries, blood coming out of every orifice, are forced to wait in long lines for months at a time until anyone will attempt to stanch their bleeding.

But that’s not all that is implied by this awful phrase. Beyond rotten health care, there is also moral rot. The articles make clear that any nation whose citizens would work together to take care of their sick brethren has something deeply wrong with it.

But those of us who are savvy students of English, our most superior language, know just from the use of the word “socialized” that something must be wrong. The more gullible among us think that “socialized” comes from the root word “social.” There’s nothing wrong with being social, they think. And further, “social” media has brought us all together, just one big happy family under one big IT tent. But, of course, if you sound it out, “socialized” sounds much more like “socialist.” Need I say more? Just in case, I will.

So, to be clear, because you never know who’s reading, “socialized” sounds like “socialist.” And Bernie Sanders has introduced us all to the term, “Democratic Socialist,” describing people who want horrible things like affordable health care for all, free education and a universal job guarantee. Bernie may look and sound like our kindly grandfather, but we know better, because many of our political leaders have told us, that in reality, this is just a front, and that red states, unsuspecting because they are already red, if they had socialized medicine, would be invaded by socialists, in other words — communists. Then we will all be blown up by nuclear bombs with red hammers and sickles on them, just to be clear.

So, thank God these articles about socialized medicine are being written and re-posted. Not only do the articles mention inexcusable communist wait times for health care, but also the inevitable, completely unavoidable high costs associated with such systems (in addition to the moral rot already mentioned).

I must not be that smart, though, because, at times, I still get confused about all of this. My patients, here in the good old U.S. of A, sometimes struggle with long waits to get their health care. Earlier this year, a patient with a tumor in their lung had to wait over a month to get a biopsy and start chemo because their insurance company refused to cover their care if they crossed over a state line, which was just a few miles away! My staff and I worked for weeks to find a solution.

Thankfully, necessity is the mother of invention, and we finally realized that all I had to do was call the insurance company CEO’s office, and threaten to send the story to the New York Times, and then coverage was approved. Another patient, an elderly diabetic patient who just doesn’t have the manual dexterity to poke their finger and test their sugar levels with a traditional glucose monitor, has been working for months to try and get the new “Libre” monitor, which determines the glucose level with a quick swipe of the monitor over a sensor taped to the arm. Until they get this new meter, we just guess at their insulin dosing! And, I’m also confused because health care costs are skyrocketing in this country. It’s almost become a ritual now where a patient (who usually has health insurance) is diagnosed with cancer, and then we attend their community fundraiser to help them with the costs of their care (in addition to their insurance premiums that will go up 30 percent this year no matter what happens).

And then there’s the annoying fact that the U.S., not these offensive nations that have socialized medicine, has some of the worst health care quality statistics.

So, I’m confused about all this — but I am but a simple country doctor.

OK, I do get it. By posting these articles, they’re making at least two points. The more obvious point is that they feel that socialized medicine doesn’t work, and, therefore, shouldn’t be an option for the U.S. The second (slightly less obvious) point that usually follows is that only a “free market” solution can fix health care in the U.S.

But those are arguable points, not facts.

Why don’t we stop demonizing words, ideas and one another? Let’s not immediately divide over how to fix health care. How about we all commit to the idea that everyone should have affordable, high-quality health care, and work together to find the best ways to deliver that.

I’m convinced that, no matter the approach to fixing health care in the U.S., the real devil is in the details. I am open to any approach that will succeed. I predict that the ultimate solution, if we ever get there, will involve government-industry partnerships, but doubt a working health care system would much resemble any version of that which we have at the present time.

Matthew Hahn is a family physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Matthew Hahn, MD.  He is the author of Distracted: How Regulations Are Destroying the Practice of Medicine and Preventing True Health-Care Reform.

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