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Op-ed: Access to government health care is a good thing

Published November 30, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

How soon we forget why legislation was passed when our political biases get in the way. In the Salt Lake Tribune Sunday Nov. 24, Cherilyn Bacon Eagar, a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat that Mike Lee got in 2010, bemoans the fact that Medicare (health care for the elderly) started the "slide toward socialized medicine."

Yes, as she notes, the American Medical Association used the Medicare law to impose the current fee-for-(specific)-service system to advance the interests of doctors. She also criticizes Sen. Orrin Hatch for sponsoring the Children's Health Insurance Program that benefited children. (How could those dirty rascals in Congress think about good health care for children!)

Alas, she conveniently forgets what Medicare and Medicaid did for those two groups. Many of the elderly had little or no insurance when they retired, and before Medicare was implemented, they were thrust into poverty when they had health problems. The poverty rate of those over 65 dropped dramatically from nearly 30 percent in 1965 when Medicare was passed to roughly 9 percent today.

CHIP also helped children's health, though far too many of our children remain in poverty. At least the elderly and children of the very poor have access to health care. Even then, according to government reports, access to health care by the poor, whether by the elderly or the very young, is lacking.

Despite having the most expensive and probably best health care in the world for those who can afford it or have private or government insurance, the health care system falls well short of numerous nations when compared on two standardized measures of health care: life expectancy and infant mortality.

The U.S. ranks 50th out of 221 countries in life expectancy in 2011 (see the CIA World Factbook). The U.S. lags behind Japan, the top country, by four years, so the differences are not dramatic, but our life expectancy would be even higher if the poor and minorities had good access to health care and had good treatment.

The evidence for this comes from the National Healthcare Disparities Report issued under mandate from Congress. Under that mandate, the Department of Health and Human Services tracks health-care disparities. The report uses three dozen databases and focuses on nine general topics and incorporates recommendations from a number of agencies and organizations.

The most recent report, a truly vast and detailed report of 248 pages, argues that while health-care quality overall is improving in the United States, access to health care and the disparities in health care are not improving. As the report notes in dry bureaucratic language, "Many times, our system of health care distributes services inefficiently and unevenly across populations. Some Americans receive worse care than other Americans."

The report argues that two significant factors for the disparities are the lack of equal access to health care and the inequity in the actual care provided to (minority) groups and the poor in American society. This, despite the fact that health-care cost in the United States is 40 percent higher than any other country in the world.

Many factors are responsible for the high cost of health care: elective surgeries, cosmetic surgeries, obesity-related surgery, and joint replacements all drive up health-care costs. Further, the number of specialists is high, and most hospitals and health care providers in the United States are for-profit organizations. As is well-known, early preventive care significantly lowers costs and mortality.

Contrary to what Eagar says, access to government health care is good, not evil.

Cardell Jacobson lives in Provo.