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Posts Tagged ‘rationing health care’

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the swine flu is now “widespread” in the majority of states in the U.S. In those states where it is not officially “widespread” it is mostly categorized as either “regional” or “local”.  In other words, its pretty much everywhere – right now.  Today, the very first swine flu doses of vaccine are being distributed to health workers. This is only a very small batch of vaccine, the amount of vaccine that could be used to inoculate most of the U.S. population is still far off, and it is unlikely that the huge amounts of the vaccine will be available before the flu is officially “widespread” in just about all parts of the country.  At which point one might wonder if it makes sense to get vaccinated at all.

Here’s something to think about: what if this disease were more deadly? Or, what if it just left lasting effects that didn’t kill quickly but just made your life miserable as long as you lived?  Would we all still be sitting on our couches, still changing the channels to see what else is on TV?  Could it be that this flu pandemic teaching us something that we aren’t learning? You bet it is.  The thing is this, however, the lesson has already been taught to us before – on more than one occasion – but it is one we don’t want to learn.  That’s because it’s about money.

It was almost 100 years ago that the Titanic set sail from its last stop at Cobh harbor in Ireland on its way to New York.   It already had a reputation as being unsinkable, even though this was its maiden voyage, due to its construction, which included a number of water-tight compartments.  Tragically, it turned out that the watertight compartments could not prevent it from sinking.  Even more tragic was the fact that there were not enough lifeboats on the ship.  Perhaps less well known is the fact that a sufficient number of lifeboats had actually been provided for the Titanic, but the ships management company, White Star Line, decided to offload almost half of the lifeboats because they felt the decks of Titanic were too cluttered.  And besides, the existing regulations didn’t require all those lifeboats anyway.  The result, of course, was the most famous maritime disaster of all time.  The lesson was that all ships in the future had to have sufficient lifeboat capacity no matter what anyone says.

There is, however, a further lesson we can learn from both the Titanic and the swine flu – but it is one we are unlikely to learn until it is too late.  The lesson is this: when we entrust our safety to profit-making corporations we have given the option to these corporations of choosing between profits and safety – and they will always choose profits.  The simple fact is that safety doesn’t make money and therefore only an entity that has the safety of the people in mind, and not profit, will make the correct decisions concerning public safety.  That entity is, and can only be, the government.

The simple fact is this: we don’t have enough swine flu vaccine.  We will not have enough swine flu vaccine in time to help prevent that vast majority of cases.  More people will get swine flu that will be protected from it by a vaccine.  The reason for this is simple: we don’t have the capability to make enough a vaccine fast enough.   Of course, when I say “we”, I mean the vaccine industry because there is no government vaccine production capability.  So why is this? Why isn’t there enough commercial vaccine capability to produce a vaccine for everyone in time? It’s because it doesn’t make sense from a profit-making perspective.  How often would these companies use this prodigious capability?  No too often. How would it pay for itself? It wouldn’t.  It would sit idle most of the time.  The Capitalist equation works for the business owner, not the general population.  It is the government (i.e. the people) that has to intervene when the for-profit system fails to provide for the safety of the people.  After the Titanic disaster strict lifeboat regulations were passed – by governments, not by the ocean liner industry.

We are in the process of learning a lesson similar to the Titanic lesson again.  However, it is one I believe we won’t learn well.  That’s because the swine flu is not deadly enough. A lot of us will get sick and a lot of us will die – but not enough, not enough to galvanize the public into demanding action. The result will be that our government won’t create a capability that could immunize all of us at some future time when we are confronted by a truly deadly killer. And then of course, it will be too late.

One can only wonder at a government that designs and builds enough nuclear weapons to kill every man, woman, and child on the planet many times over, all in the name of defense.  Yet, when it comes to defending its own people from disease, our government turns a blind eye to the possibility and its own responsibility, and leaves our lives at the tender mercies of the for-profit medical industry.

Capitalism at its best.

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It has been happening slowly, almost imperceptibly, like the Titanic trying to turn away from an iceberg in its path.  The casual observer might not have noticed any change, but upon closer inspection you notice that something somehow has changed.  Remember when CNN was a news organization?  Remember when they reported what happened both in the U.S. and around the world and they were satisfied with doing that – sort of an American BBC?  Now they have morphed into a semi-entertainment show.  They’ve gone all a-twitter.  People can interact with them in real time via social networking websites.  Both Joe Redneck and Joe College can have their thoughts read aloud now on CNN news- as if their thoughts were representative of anything other than their own private musings.

But another, more insidious change has taken place in Atlanta.  CNN has developed a taste for provocative news, news that will get you excited, news that will keep you watching and keep you listening – because after all, they are a commercial enterprise and sponsors pay for ratings and ratings come from numbers of watching heads.  Plain old facts don’t give them the kick they need anymore. People listen and watch plain old facts for half an hour, understand what is happening in the world today, and then turn off the TV and go about their lives.  Not a profitable business model.  It appears that CNN has taken a glance at the FOX News business model and said, “Hmmm, we need to learn from these geniuses.  We need to get more into the news entertainment business.  Leave the straight factual reporting to the Brits.”

On today’s morning news on CNN it was reported that a government health plan could eventually result in rationing health care because the government would have no other way of controlling costs.  Que visions in people’s minds of someone pulling the plug on Grandma.  CNN reported that this conclusion had been reached by the Cato Institute, which had done a study of government health care.  CNN went on to say that the Cato Institute is a Libertarian organization.  (For those unfamiliar with Libertarian philosophy, it doesn’t mean the same thing as Liberal – as in left-wing Democrats.  Libertarians are fundamentally opposed to government in general and believe that the less government we have the better off everyone is.)  I guess CNN couldn’t find the time to fit in a brief explanation of Libertarian views, so that explanation was rationed out of the news.  The innocent listener was left thinking that government health care must be bad with all the rationing they’ll be doing.  Apparently CNN was short on time and couldn’t fit in an explanation that commercial health insurance companies, hospitals, dentists, dental insurance companies, and basically the entire U.S. health industry currently rations health care. So CNN rationed that out too.

“What?” you say.  “I don’t want anyone rationing my health care!” Neither do I, but it’s a fact of life.  Take a look at your insurance policy and see what’s covered and what’s not covered.  Look at the limits of your coverage for certain procedures.  Look at what is excluded.  Same with your dental plan.  Let’s say you needed a heart transplant.  Could you get one tomorrow?  No. You would be placed on a waiting list.  How about a new liver or kidney? Same thing.  How about just a routine operation to repair a problem with your back?  Ummm, let’s see, OK we have an opening in six weeks on Thursday.  Can you come in then? – Isn’t this all rationing? Of course. Our health care system doesn’t have infinite capacity. Our health care insurers don’t have infinite funds. There are limits on what you will get right now.  A government plan would be no different – only an idiot would believe otherwise.  In the real world their are limits to everything; unfortunately, CNN chose not to explain that and went ahead with the “rationing” story without further explanation, thereby conjuring up, once again, images of poor old, expendable, grandma having the plug pulled on her.

This isn’t news.  This is beyond news.  This is yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater.  It is irresponsible journalism, a failure to report the truth by omitting facts.  This is deliberate stirring up misunderstandings and debate among ill-informed citizens all for the sake of an audience who will keep listening to learn more dire “facts” about what could go wrong if the government begins to provide health care for large numbers of Americans.  This is not helping.  Only the truth helps and this isn’t it.

CNN, you have crossed the line.  You have now entered the twilight world of Fox News, a world of half truths and innuendo, a world where not everything is at it seems. I suppose it could only happen on a television set.  CNN has  entered the Twilight Zone.

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