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21.3.10

The Health of a Nation

One has to wonder why socialized health care has become such a burning issue. I mean: why now? Why is Obama willing to trade ALL of his political capital for it? Why is Congress willing to drive the last stake into the heart of the country, against the will of so many people, in order to pass a bill virtually no one has read? And why is this reform so vital that it must include the IRS to help enforce it?

It's a given that the American health care system is outrageously expensive, but there is nothing wrong with the delivery system, it is the deification of doctors and the complete lack of alternatives that makes it so. The pill pushers and surgeons have a comfortable monopoly on the delivery of health care. Those seem to be the only alternatives ever offered. Option 1: throw pills at it; Option 2: remove and rewire if the pills don't work. There are no other options available through conventional insurance. Why not herbals, acupuncture or holistic care? Why not faith-healers? After all, Western science has proven the placebo effect, so isn't all medicine more or less just faith healing?

By contrast, my experience in Indonesia is quite different. One year ago, I had my first (noticable) attack of Multiple Sclerosis. In the span of 5 minutes, I went from having a highly accurate and trained sense of sight to profoundly blind. I did not have insurance other than my bank account. Subsequently, I went to 6 specialists at 5 different hospitals, stayed for a week in one of Indonesia's premier eye clinics, had 2 MRIs and a CAT scan, blood tests, medication, and follow-up visits. Total out-of-pocket? Less than $1,000. The hospital stay for one week, including nursing, medication and 4 decent meals a day? $200. The MRIs were $200 each. Each doctor's visit? $18. One year of tests and treatments cost about the same as 2 days in a US hospital.

In the end, the only option Western medicine gave me, after steroids restored some of my sight in the acute phase, was lifetime popping pills that may or may not prevent future attacks and which had onerous side-effects. I have since begun a vitamin/herbal routine with massage and acupuncture, which has restored some of my color vision, though not much accuity. A 2-hour, full-body massage runs about $4.50, and one session of accupuncture is about $9.

The point is, if I can obtain state-of-the-art Western medicine in the Third World at a fraction of the cost as in the US, what makes it so expensive? I can buy over-the-counter Amoxicillin, 10 doses, for $4 here. Why does it require a doctor's visit and cost $15 in the States?

The other part of the health care bill is the enforcement. The bill allows for the IRS to garnish wages and attach bank accounts in order to force you to pay for health care that you may or may not have need for in the future. Many people receive health insurance as a benefit of employment, plus there is a Worker's Compensation Program for on-the-job injuries, plus there is a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency stabilization, plus there is a large network of charity hospitals, plus there is Medicare/Medicaide. So why exactly must Americans be forced at the point of a gun to buy into government-sponsored health care?

As my colleague George Ure points out, at UrbanSurvival.com, there are two compelling possibilities: 1) to provide a massive make-work program to employ as many people as possible, and 2) since the bill allows the feds to begin collecting in 2011, but not deliver until 2014, the money can be used to shore up the federal budget in the meantime. Both of these make sense in light of the current economic mayhem. I would add that it recognizes the lobbying efforts of big Pharma cronies, provides an additional layer of control and admits the rising storm of Baby Boom demographics.

Large-scale reforms such as this one always have multi-pronged benefits in order to get the greatest number of supporters. Arguably, Boomers are the single largest interest group in American society at the moment. This group, which has squandered the treasury and created a burdensome entitlement system knows that Social Security and Medicare can never hope to provide the benefits they expect in their old age. So it is imperative that they modify the system to give them what they want. After all, it is what they have done for decades, the rest of us be damned.

I believe the same effect could be achieved with simple reform of narcotics laws. Let the Boomers smoke and inject themselves into oblivion, tax the sales of opiates and other narcotics to pay for their convalescence and achieve all the same goals while keeping them quietly sedated. That's what they have sought for a generation, so give it to them. It's what they want in the health care bill: assured access to painkillers. My solution benefits society, while the legislation currently pending benefits corporate bottom lines. Same result, only one costs money and the other makes money.

As a final thought, there are tremendous investment opportunities right now in funerary services. Companies operating interment and incineration are the are the unsung economic growth engine of the coming decade, as we slowly and finally get rid of one of the most self-indulgent, navel-staring generations in history.

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