As some of you know, I’m working on a hybrid—part memoir and part how to get us off our collective ass and provide affordable, accessible healthcare to our people. The biggest barrier is that all we read and talk about are the symptoms—not the disease.
This is like hearing an odd noise coming from under the hood of your car. You drive to your regular automotive shop and the son of the boss waits on you. You tell him about the noise and he hands you a pair of earplugs so you don’t have to listen to the noise. What you don’t know is that the boss is having surgery and his son, an adjunct instructor at Stanford, has been let go after several disgruntled students started a campaign against him on Facebook. More often than we like to think but that’s for another blog.
Now imagine being me and reading more than a half-dozen books on the state of US healthcare. In nearly every title by “experts” there are scary words—broken, sickness, unaccountable, and how “we” are paying the price. Actually, not all of us. The rich folks have all the healthcare you and I could ever hope for. That includes our corporate-owned Congress, so terrified of the word socialism they need a trigger warning.
Photo credit Bernd Klutsch
There’s a name for all of these books—every one of them—symptomology. Here’s a definition: The science that studies the symptoms of diseases. We all know and live the symptoms—too many unnecessary tests, surprise bills, medical bankruptcy, zero or limited access to exemplary care, hospital corporatization, lobbyists whoring for any cause, and let’s not forget the American Medical Association who is now greatly reduced in members but couldn’t utter the words Medicare for All or a national, single-payer system if an armed drone was circling above their annual confab. Only Physicians for a National Health Program dare to openly speak of the disease. https://pnhp.org
In not one of the many books I’ve read does the author mention our “uniquely American” free-market system that puts profits first, patients second, and the under- and uninsured (and more every day) last. The best of the bunch I’ve read is MD Marty Markary’s book The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care—and How to Fix It. His fixes nibble around the corrupt and/or criminal edges of our system that he takes meticulous research and writing to describe. His fixes, no surprise, only treat symptoms and left me with his title question—Who is really paying the price? We are!
It’s a hard book to read if you have a medical appointment or procedure on the horizon such as—doctors who shouldn’t be practicing, surgeons who go right to the knife, and let’s not leave out insurers, hospitals, and big pharma who have just made a bundle off of Covid-19 and us. All of these health-related modalities know how to game any rule just so long as we don’t talk about the disease—private insurance and governmental programs who miss the mark but are judged better than nothing. Someday, for example, Congress might want to help seniors chew (dental), see (glasses), and hear (aids). They might want to reduce Medicaid’s shocking infant and maternal mortality rates and really fix the VA.
Just like at the car repair shop, the noise under the hood is not going to be corrected with earplugs. Nor is the US going to be a decent place to live—for everyone—until we stop nibbling around the edges of our rights, not privileges. Obamacare is nothing more than that raging socialist Mitt Romney’s health plan for Massachusetts when he was the governor. Now even that wimp-ass answer is under threat but is still making investors and insurers rich as kings.
I am tapped out on books by the experts who only want to talk symptoms. They are important to identify but god help me we could all recite plenty of them—the list is long.
The Answer For Now
To quote from a recent article in the October Harper’s Magazine referring to the also broken criminal justice system but applies as well to healthcare: “True change of the best kind: hearts, minds, and laws.” Hey, want to join me in Step One—working on those hearts (Congressional ones would be a good start) and our own.
So good to see intelligent people like you “on the case.” Absolutely crazy when we compare the US to the rest of the world. I have no solutions but agree that it’s time to make some drastic alterations. You go girl!
Thanks, Caroline. I just want lots of regular people to go with me! It won’t come from the top. 70% of Americans still want Medicare for All – so it’s time we get organized and not wait for the politicians to do it for us. So glad to have you as a blog reader!
Great and courageous piece, Barbara! Ah, the heart! How do we change it? That’s the core question. I admire your courage in the sentence regarding the “uniquely American” free-market system that puts profits first, patients second, and the under- and uninsured (and more every day) last. In other words how do we get the heart and the mind to talk to each other in a detached professional way, seeing the other as self and responding accordingly.
I’m really looking forward to your book, Barbara.
Hi Catherine. Thanks so much for your comments. I wrote in an earlier reply that the only way I know (mostly trying to find my way on this) is to remove healthcare from politics. The language is designed to divide and frighten. The corporate interests and the medical et al professions support this as well. We’ve been groomed to choose one side or the other. Only the working and under class and those hanging on by their fingertips can start a true movement in this country and my best hope for true, lasting change like Social Security.
Thanks for your comments Catherine. When I worked in managed care, any time the idea of universal healthcare was mentioned it was shut down by that “uniquely…” and the docs and execs sitting around the table all nodded in agreemenT. That’s what we have all right and the sympathy of people in other countries who can’t imagine how they could manage. Or why they should since health is a right not a privilege there – just not here.
Great piece. I’m grateful you’re willing to wade through the disheartening crap to say these things. Now how to get the system to change when the vaunted “free market” of American capitalism is what our country is addicted to. P.S I especially loved your description of “that raging socialist Mitt Romney.” Good one.
It is disheartening to read “the fixes” that these experts recommend after dragging me through everything that’s “broke” as MD Markary likes to say. All I know right now after reading Thomas Frank’s most excellent book The People, No is that change of any kind will have to come up through the people – sans politics – not trickle down from the top. Thanks for commenting – much appreciated.
I read it too! I think we are waiting for your prescription idea on how to help fix the system Barbara.
Hi Stephanie – I’m just one person but my RX is like a vaccine – in the early stages. I do know this – the answer has to be devoid of both political parties, no labels (socialist, etc), and not waiting for corporations to replace profits with compassion. When over 80% of the population (pre-Bernie undoing by the DNC) wanted a national health program that included everyone, that desire is still there and can only grow. I wrote about Matt Taibbi’s Hate, Inc. in an earlier post and think he’s right – we’ve been carefully groomed by the media to believe that people who disagree can’t find common ground. If health isn’t it, I don’t know what is.
Compared to the usual discussions of “health care” in America, this one is very hard hitting. Good! We now face an attempt by Trumpians (formerly known as republicans) to use the Supremes in order to eliminate obamacare, increase unintended pregnancies to full term, and assure that tens of millions of Americans remain without health coverage. That’s the program at present. If there would be a different president after the election next month, how much would health care be improved? Who knows. Thanks for this update. I’m looking forward to that truth-telling book of yours–
Thanks for your comments, Pat. As long as the insurance companies and venture capital is part of our health care, I don’t see anything other than those famous deck chairs being rearranged. And, I don’t think that politics has anything to do with people’s lives or Americans (the actual people) would not been left hanging with job loss, bankruptcy, losing homes, etc. by both parties.
You’re right on target! Our worship of our present economic system is the root cause of this and others of our society’s problems.
Thanks so much for your support of this post. I was going to use the term late-stage capitalism but decided everyone understands how profits and power are, as you say, the root cause. Great to have your comments since it’s lovely to see that at least one person read it and responded.