A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Sick System

I knew that there was a health-care crisis, and as an old lefty I've always believed that the government should do something about it.

But it's never been a matter of personal urgency. I've always had fully paid health insurance. But now, having retired, I have to deal with plans and fees and deductibles and limits and all the other headaches that millions of people have been dealing with.

Even with Medicare, there are choices to be made on prescription drug plans and supplemental coverage. And they cost money, and involve "gaps" and limits and all sorts of headache-inducing stuff, largely because Congress has kowtowed to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Even so, it's a lot easier than dealing directly with insurance companies.

What kind of "health care" system allows a teenage girl to die while waiting for a liver transplant? You probably read the story: Nataline Sarkysian's doctors said she needed a liver transplant, but her insurer, CIGNA, declined to pay for it because the surgery was "experimental" and because there was no guarantee that it would be effective. And while the family was appealing the decision, she died.

Why is health care less important than highways, or schools, or police forces, or fire departments? We trust the government to use our taxes to fund and manage these things. Why are we so reluctant to let the government take charge of seeing to it that Americans have guaranteed access to the health care they need? If we belief in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, why is "life" being neglected?

Why is a governmental bureaucracy supposedly less efficient than a corporate bureaucracy? The standard conservative argument against universal health care is that it's too important to be left to bureaucrats. But it was a corporate bureaucracy that determined Nataline Sarkisyan's fate -- on the basis not of the patient's welfare but of the company's profits. My dealings with the government's health bureaucracy -- Social Security and Medicare -- have been both efficient and helpful. My dealings with insurance company bureaucracies? Not so much.