"Too Old' for Hip Surgery
Original post made
by kt, Apperson Ridge,
on Feb 16, 2009
To all those who voted for OBAMA, what is your reaction to the following article? Are you surprised? You shouldn't be. He will leave our healthcare system in shambles. Read on...
'Too Old' for Hip Surgery
As we inch towards nationalized health care, important lessons from north of the border.
By NADEEM ESMAIL
President Obama and Congressional Democrats are inching the U.S. toward government-run health insurance. Last week's expansion of Schip -- the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- is a first step. Before proceeding further, here's a suggestion: Look at Canada's experience.
Health-care resources are not unlimited in any country, even rich ones like Canada and the U.S., and must be rationed either by price or time. When individuals bear no direct responsibility for paying for their care, as in Canada, that care is rationed by waiting.
Canadians often wait months or even years for necessary care. For some, the status quo has become so dire that they have turned to the courts for recourse. Several cases currently before provincial courts provide studies in what Americans could expect from government-run health insurance.
In Ontario, Lindsay McCreith was suffering from headaches and seizures yet faced a four and a half month wait for an MRI scan in January of 2006. Deciding that the wait was untenable, Mr. McCreith did what a lot of Canadians do: He went south, and paid for an MRI scan across the border in Buffalo. The MRI revealed a malignant brain tumor.
Ontario's government system still refused to provide timely treatment, offering instead a months-long wait for surgery. In the end, Mr. McCreith returned to Buffalo and paid for surgery that may have saved his life. He's challenging Ontario's government-run monopoly health-insurance system, claiming it violates the right to life and security of the person guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Shona Holmes, another Ontario court challenger, endured a similarly harrowing struggle. In March of 2005, Ms. Holmes began losing her vision and experienced headaches, anxiety attacks, extreme fatigue and weight gain. Despite an MRI scan showing a brain tumor, Ms. Holmes was told she would have to wait months to see a specialist. In June, her vision deteriorating rapidly, Ms. Holmes went to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where she found that immediate surgery was required to prevent permanent vision loss and potentially death. Again, the government system in Ontario required more appointments and more tests along with more wait times. Ms. Holmes returned to the Mayo Clinic and paid for her surgery.
On the other side of the country in Alberta, Bill Murray waited in pain for more than a year to see a specialist for his arthritic hip. The specialist recommended a "Birmingham" hip resurfacing surgery (a state-of-the-art procedure that gives better results than basic hip replacement) as the best medical option. But government bureaucrats determined that Mr. Murray, who was 57, was "too old" to enjoy the benefits of this procedure and said no. In the end, he was also denied the opportunity to pay for the procedure himself in Alberta. He's heading to court claiming a violation of Charter rights as well.
These constitutional challenges, along with one launched in British Columbia last month, share a common goal: to win Canadians the freedom to spend their own money to protect themselves from the inadequacies of the government health-insurance system.
The cases find their footing in a landmark ruling on Quebec health insurance in 2005. The Supreme Court of Canada found that Canadians suffer physically and psychologically while waiting for treatment in the public health-care system, and that the government monopoly on essential health services imposes a risk of death and irreparable harm. The Supreme Court ruled that Quebec's prohibition on private health insurance violates citizen rights as guaranteed by that province's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
The experiences of these Canadians -- along with the untold stories of the 750,794 citizens waiting a median of 17.3 weeks from mandatory general-practitioner referrals to treatment in 2008 -- show how miserable things can get when government is put in charge of managing health insurance.
In the wake of the 2005 ruling, Canada's federal and provincial governments have tried unsuccessfully to fix the long wait times by introducing selective benchmarks and guarantees along with large increases in funding. The benchmarks and the guarantees aren't ambitious: four to eight weeks for radiation therapy; 16 to 26 weeks for cataract surgery; 26 weeks for hip and knee replacements and lower-urgency cardiac bypass surgery.
Canada's system comes at the cost of pain and suffering for patients who find themselves stuck on waiting lists with nowhere to go. Americans can only hope that Barack Obama heeds the lessons that can be learned from Canadian hardships.
Mr. Esmail, based in Calgary, is the director of Health System Performance Studies at The Fraser Institute.
Like this comment
Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Feb 17, 2009 at 3:53 pm
Medicaid spending has increased due to the same increases in health care costs that are whittling away at employer-based health insurance and real wage increases.
The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It
"There's now a large body of evidence on what works and what doesn't work in health care, and it's not hard to see how to make dramatic improvements in US practice. As we'll see, the evidence clearly shows that the key problem with the US health care system is its fragmentation. A history of failed attempts to introduce universal health insurance has left us with a system in which the government pays directly or indirectly for more than half of the nation's health care, but the actual delivery both of insurance and of care is undertaken by a crazy quilt of private insurers, for-profit hospitals, and other players who add cost without adding value.
We've found new ways to help people, and are spending more to take advantage of the opportunity. Why not view rising medical spending, like rising spending on, say, home entertainment systems, simply as a rational response to expanded choice? We would suggest two answers.
The first is that the US health care system is extremely inefficient, and this inefficiency becomes more costly as the health care sector becomes a larger fraction of the economy.
What makes it literally fatal to thousands of Americans each year is that the inefficiency of our health care system exacerbates a second problem: our health care system often makes irrational choices, and rising costs exacerbate those irrationalities. Specifically, American health care tends to divide the population into insiders and outsiders. Insiders, who have good insurance, receive everything modern medicine can provide, no matter how expensive. Outsiders, who have poor insurance or none at all, receive very little. To take just one example, one study found that among Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer, those without insurance were 70 percent more likely than those with insurance to die over the next three years.
So the only way modern medical care can be made available to anyone other than the very rich is through health insurance. Yet it's very difficult for the private sector to provide such insurance, because health insurance suffers from a particularly acute case of a well-known economic problem known as _adverse selection_.
Insurance companies deal with these problems, to some extent, by carefully screening applicants to identify those with a high risk of needing expensive treatment, and either rejecting such applicants or charging them higher premiums. But such screening is itself expensive. Furthermore, it tends to screen out exactly those who most need insurance.
Employer-based insurance has historically offered a partial solution to the problem of _adverse selection_. Rising health costs have also ended the ability of employer-based insurance plans to avoid the problem of _adverse selection_. ... employers are starting to make hiring decisions based on likely health costs. For example, an internal Wal-Mart memo, reported by The New York Times in October, suggested adding tasks requiring physical exertion to jobs that don't really require it as a way to screen out individuals with potential health risks.
Providing health insurance looked like a good way for employers to reward their employees when it was a small part of the pay package. Today, however, the annual cost of coverage for a family of four is estimated by the Kaiser Family Foundation at more than $10,000. One way to look at it is to say that that's roughly what a worker earning minimum wage and working full time earns in a year. It's more than half the annual earnings of the average Wal-Mart employee.
Health care costs at current levels override the incentives that have historically supported employer-based health insurance. Now that health costs loom so large, companies that provide generous benefits are in effect paying some of their workers much more than the going wageor, more to the point, more than competitors pay similar workers. Inevitably, this creates pressure to reduce or eliminate health benefits. And companies that can't cut benefits enough to stay competitivesuch as GMfind their very existence at risk.
Fortunately, some of the adverse consequences of the decline in employer-based coverage have been muted by a crucial government program, Medicaid. But Medicaid is facing its own pressures.
Medicaid has grown rapidly in recent years because it has been picking up the slack from the unraveling system of employer-based insurance. Between 2000 and 2004 the number of Americans covered by Medicaid rose by a remarkable eight million. Over the same period the ranks of the uninsured rose by six million. So without the growth of Medicaid, the uninsured population would have exploded, and we'd be facing a severe crisis in medical care.
The result is that, like employer-based health insurance, Medicaid faces a possible unraveling in the face of rising health costs.
We spend far more on health care than other advanced countriesalmost twice as much per capita as France, almost two and a half times as much as Britain. Yet we do considerably worse even than the British on basic measures of health performance, such as life expectancy and infant mortality.
One might argue that the US health care system actually provides better care than foreign systems, but that the effects of this superior care are more than offset by unhealthy US lifestyles.
the main source of high US costs is probably the unique degree to which the US system relies on private rather than public health insurance, reflected in the uniquely high US share of private spending in total health care expenditure.
all of that evidence indicates that public insurance of the kind available in several European countries and others such as Taiwan achieves equal or better results at much lower cost. This conclusion applies to comparisons within the United States as well as across countries. For example, a study conducted by researchers at the Urban Institute found that
per capita spending for an adult Medicaid beneficiary in poor health would rise from $9,615 to $14,785 if the person were insured privately and received services consistent with private utilization levels and private provider payment rates.
The cost advantage of public health insurance appears to arise from two main sources. The first is lower administrative costs. Private insurers spend large sums fighting _adverse selection_, trying to identify and screen out high-cost customers. Systems such as Medicare, which covers every American sixty-five or older, or the Canadian single-payer system, which covers everyone, avoid these costs. In 2003 Medicare spent less than 2 percent of its resources on administration, while private insurance companies spent more than 13 percent.
The second source of savings in a system of public health insurance is the ability to bargain with suppliers, especially drug companies, for lower prices. Residents of the United States notoriously pay much higher prices for prescription drugs than residents of other advanced countries, including Canada. What is less known is that both Medicaid and, to an even greater extent, the Veterans' Administration, get discounts similar to or greater than those received by the Canadian health system.
We're talking about large cost savings. Indeed, the available evidence suggests that if the United States were to replace its current complex mix of health insurance systems with standardized, universal coverage, the savings would be so large that we could cover all those currently uninsured, yet end up spending less overall. That's what happened in Taiwan, which adopted a single-payer system in 1995: the percentage of the population with health insurance soared from 57 percent to 97 percent, yet health care costs actually grew more slowly than one would have predicted from trends before the change in system."