Wonderful Socialized American Medicine

President Clinton’s attempt at health care reform was considered a failure, yet it did provide government health care to millions more Americans. Nothing makes Congressmen more uncomfortable than news stories about poor American veterans without health care. Clinton used this support to expand health care eligibility through the Veterans Administration (VA). Traditionally, the VA only provided health care to veterans with service related disabilities, which at that time were around 3 million Americans. Clinton pushed Congress to expand eligibility to all 25 million honorably discharged veterans.

The VA was soon flooded with applicants. Its patient load doubled within two years as millions of veterans sought care from America’s largest socialist health care system. The VA is truly a socialist system, not even a single-payer system where private sector doctors and hospitals bill the government. VA doctors and staff are government employees and the facilities and equipment are government owned.

The VA was overwhelmed and unable to properly care for disabled veterans. Many of those joining the VA system had dropped private coverage due to costs, while others preferred it to their employer provided private health insurance. As a result, the VA used an emergency provision to restrict enrollment to low-income veterans with no health insurance. Low-income is currently defined as less than $29,000 for the previous calendar year. Those who make less than $60,000 may also be eligible, but must make co-payments.

Joining the Socialists

I suffered economically last year and found myself unable to afford health insurance. I learned that I was eligible for free care from the VA, but American television had taught me that since the VA was a government run system, it must be horrible. I had small skin blotches from sun exposure and needed these “AKs” frozen off. It’s a simple procedure that I’ve had done before where I paid a couple hundred dollars. However, with funds short and knowing that I could suffer a serious injury any day from an accident; I decided to enroll with the VA.

I expected enrolling would require many forms and require weeks for approval. I went to the enrollment office with all they asked for, a picture ID and a copy of my “DD-214” discharge paper. I filled out a short form that only asked my previous year’s income, something I’m told they confirm with the IRS. I waited a few minutes, then my name was called and a nice lady met with me. She put my information into a computer, took my picture for my VA ID card, and said I was enrolled. She provided a list of VA clinics in my city. One was less than a mile from my home, so I chose that one and was given a telephone number to make an appointment.

I called about a skin appointment, but was told that as a new member, I must make an appointment for a full checkup. I expected to wait weeks for an appointment, so I was shocked when I was told I could come in the next morning for a full 45-minute initial check-up. I arrived for my appointment on time and was happy to see a clean, modern facility with no lines. I checked-in and sat down for the expected long wait, yet my name was called just two minutes later.

A nurse did the standard health questionnaire, weigh-in, and blood pressure check. Everything was computerized, the VA is truly paperless. The doctor arrived and did what doctors are supposed to do, take time and ask and answer questions. He patiently provided the standard fatherly advice – exercise more, lose some weight, drink less alcohol, and gave me a thick health care book. He said my blood pressure was a little high, so he gave me a blood pressure monitor and a prescription for “water pills.” The medicine was free and I picked it up at the pharmacy down the hallway. I said my back bothered me, so he sent me down the hallway for a few x-rays. He told me to fast for 12-hours and drop by without an appointment next week so my blood could be drawn for testing, and set up a follow-on appointment for ten days later.

There was no waiting at my next appointment as the doctor reviewed the results of my blood tests and back x-rays. He didn’t look tired or in a hurry and told me I had no problems and suggested that I come back in four months for a checkup. It was nice to know that there was no government or health insurance company involved in his health care decisions. He had no incentive to ration care to save money or to order extra testing or treatment to make money. As I left, I told the doctor that I was disappointed that I didn’t have a grave illness because I had free first-class health care and couldn’t take advantage of it.

I had to wait a week for my skin appointment, but there was no wait at the office and no cost. After each of these appointments, I was told I was finished and could go home. There were no forms to fill out, no papers to sign, nor payments to be made. After all this free health care, I felt somewhat guilty and thought I really didn’t deserve it. I then concluded that I did deserve free health care, every American does! For those unaware, every wealthy country in the world provides free health care for their citizens, except the USA.

Demonizing Socialism

Jon Stewart is one of America’s greatest educators. As host of the “Daily Show” he uses satire to expose fallacies in American society. He recently dispatched one of his “correspondents”to Sweden to expose the horrors of their socialized national health care system. His reporter interviewed several Swedes on the street attempting to find someone to denounce Sweden’s socialized medical system, where patients pay for nothing. He grew frustrated as everyone he encountered had nothing but positive comments about socialized medicine. Phillip Longman recently completed lengthy research to identify America’s best health care system. He was shocked to learn the socialist VA system had the highest quality ratings and the lowest costs, and described these results in a new book: “Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than Yours.”

Americans are taught that all forms of socialism are evil. This is because American millionaires and billionaires who control the nation’s media pay much lower taxes than their counterparts in Europe. They fear increased government spending will cause taxation to increase. The American media makes it clear that health care is not a right guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. However, fire protection is not a right either, but all Americans are protected for free by local socialized firemen.

Perhaps socialized medicine is not best for America, but it already exists in an awkward manner. When Americans have a medical emergency, they don’t call their health insurance company, but call 911 to summon a socialist health care team. When members of Congress have an emergency, they are rushed to the socialist system at nearby Bethesda Naval hospital. George Bush and Dick Cheney never complained about the years they endured socialized medicine. Senator John McCain has enjoyed free socialized medicine since the day he was born, even though he is a multi-millionaire.

The Unfunded Mandate – Saving Lives

President Obama does not advocate a socialist health care system for the United States. He wants to address the chaotic emergency room crisis that affects all Americans. Many years ago, Congress passed a law requiring hospitals to treat all emergency patients regardless of their ability to pay. This was a civilized response to an issue where most Americans believe the sick and injured should not be left to die on the sidewalk. However, Congress never established a system to reimburse hospitals for this free medical care.

As heath care insurance costs soared, fewer employers offered employee health care and fewer Americans could afford it, so the number of uninsured has risen to 47 million. These people cannot afford to see a doctor when symptoms indicate a serious health problem, so they wait until it worsens into an emergency and join the line at a local hospital. This has driven many hospitals in poor areas into bankruptcy, and forced others to close emergency rooms and try to evade federal law with “urgent care” rooms for those who can pay.

This has taught many uninsured that superior free care is available if they drive for an hour to a hospital in a wealthy area. Poor mothers often crowd emergency rooms seeking free advice and prescriptions for their child’s illness, since they can’t afford to visit a doctor. This causes long waits at emergency rooms, with some people in pain laying on gurneys to wait their turn. Emergency care for people in ambulances is often delayed as they are routed to distant hospitals with a shorter wait. As a result, many hospitals advise insured people to avoid emergency rooms, with injuries like a broken arm, and wait until normal working hours to schedule an urgent doctor’s appointment.

The federal government has ignored this crisis for years, probably because Congressmen are unaware since they use emergency rooms at local military hospitals. After the 9-11 terror attacks, Congress wanted to provide billions of dollars to equip and train emergency rooms to deal with mass casualties that would overwhelm their ability to properly treat emergency patients. Congressmen Barney Franks revealed that federal authorities were surprised to learn that most emergency rooms were overwhelmed every Friday and Saturday night, and some are always in a battlefield “triage” mode of rationing care to sick and injured Americans.

This is a key element of the current health care debate that receives little media attention. Most of the billions of dollars in proposed spending would not disappear, but would be used to insure everyone so that local hospitals are reimbursed for providing care. Savings would be realized since insured Americans seek treatment when symptoms appear at the onset of a disease, rather than waiting for it to grow into an ultra-expensive emergency. This would lower hospital costs, and thus bring down insurance costs for all Americans. It would shift the financial burden to the federal government, so higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere are needed. However, it would lower costs overall and ensure quality emergency room care for all Americans.

Meanwhile, the federal government should expand its outstanding low-cost 8 million member VA system. While some in Congress complain about the problems with the profit-driven system of private insurance, they support it with billions of dollars a year to insure military families and retirees through TRICARE. Many are unhappy with these private sector HMO systems. Since contracts are re-bid every five years, members are often forced to change doctors and hospitals. Since the lowest bidder wins, health care organizations continually cut costs to remain profitable, to the detriment of patient care.

It would cost the federal government less to allow the 3 million military retirees and their spouses to sign up for superior health care at the VA, regardless of their income. This would be voluntary, but most would sign up as word spreads that VA care is excellent, without any costs or claim forms. Prescription drugs from the VA are far less expensive because the VA negotiates wholesale prices directly with drug manufacturers and distributes drugs cheaply through a nationwide mail order system. Federal law prohibits Medicare from doing this, which is one of the issues in the health care debate. Meanwhile, veterans who fear "socialized medicine" should drop their VA or TRICARE coverage, and try to survive in the "free market" like millions of other Americans.

                                                       Carlton Meyer  editorG2mil@Gmail.com

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