Rationing is already here

June 29, 2012

Times Argus

If you are worried about “healthcare rationing,” I have some news. It isn’t rationing when a boy has to wait hours in a Canadian ER with a non life-threatening problem. This happens in any ER: if you aren’t going to die, you have to wait behind those who might.

I’ve had the same experience in America. This, however, is rationing: I can’t get the drugs my doctor prescribed for me, because the insurance company won’t pay for them. This is rationing: many Americans can’t get healthcare, because they have neither money nor insurance.

The July issue of Consumer Reports documents a number of creative instances of rationing healthcare even to those lucky enough to be insured. One individual got a $10,000 bill for a covered service at an “in-network” hospital, because, surprise, one doctor on the surgery team wasn’t “in-network.” Another had an emergency away from home, and had to use an “out-of-network” provider, leaving her with $23,000 in bills. You can argue that these people did get healthcare. Fair enough. They might go into bankruptcy and lose the family home, but they got healthcare. Not so lucky are the people with health conditions on the ever-expanding list of “non-covered services.” In America we ration healthcare based on people’s wealth. Is that supposed to be better, somehow?

In truth, it is harder to get healthcare in America than in any other developed country. Whether you rank countries by access to healthcare or by the success of the healthcare (lower infant mortality, longer longevity, etc.) America comes out on the bottom. The only exception is cost, in which America is #1, and not by a little. Canada, Japan, U.K., France, Norway all pay less to get more, because they have nationalized healthcare. This isn’t a radical new idea. It’s the norm in the rest of the world. It’s a no-brainer. The reason we’re having a big fight about it isn’t that Americans have no brains, though, it’s that a huge portion of our healthcare dollars goes to enrich a few powerful corporations. Hmm, I see a potential cost savings...

Brian Wightman