Physicians for Universal Health Care?

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Despite our love for a fee-for-service health-care system, health care in the US costs individuals and the government more than in any other industrialized nation — while providing less.
Despite our love for a fee-for-service health-care system, health care in the US costs individuals and the government more than in any other industrialized nation — while providing less.

The issue of universal health care is one with which most physicians struggle. When Obama was first elected in 2009, I was about to graduate medical school and naively felt ecstatic that our president-elect was promising to bring us closer to some sort of national health-care system. 

My enthusiasm for universal health care came from years of watching my parents struggle with gaps in their health coverage — loopholes that either left them insufficiently covered for catastrophic events, overutilization that resulted in increased out of pocket expenses, and issues with pre-existing conditions that, at one point, left my mother paying her salary in coverage premiums.

Obama's plan for a universal health plan did not turn out to be the end-all solution to our health care woes. The hope was to solve some of the major impediments to accessing health care and to contain or reduce the uncontrolled rising costs of coverage. Beyond a soft whisper upon the lips of Washington progressives, though, his plan never came to full fruition.

Obama did manage to negotiate a compromise with the health-care industry that has resulted in the elimination of the pre-existing conditions restriction that once precluded patients from affordable care, and the creation of an insurance marketplace that has nearly cut in half the number of uninsured individuals. Yet, while those limited provisions of the Affordable Care Act did help patients, the true beneficiaries of this reform were the insurance companies, the hospital systems and the pharmaceutical industries.

Unfortunately, most physicians do not share my passion for universal health coverage. I believe that this is due in part to a societal fear that universal health care is equivalent to a gateway to socialism. Another issue is largely financial — that physicians would lose some of the autonomy that has allowed abuse to go unchecked in our fee-for-service system and resulted in a self-serving culture of inappropriate testing and unnecessary procedures.

Many fears and concerns about universal health care can be easily dispelled by looking at such systems in other developed countries. In fact, we have a unique advantage. By studying health-care systems offered elsewhere, we can adopt those features that seem to work best. Yet, we refuse to do so. When will America realize that it does not have to define itself as capitalist, socialist, democratic or a republic? Rather it can be a mélange, much like its people, of many political and economic systems. Our freedom buys us the ability to adopt the best features of other political and economic systems.

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