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Thoughts on universal healthcare

By on May 23, 2021 in Columnist with 1 Comment
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

Since I retired many years ago, I have been very grateful I have Medicare. 

In addition, I have a USAA medical supplement that costs my wife and me $227.63 monthly and is taken out of our Social Security. I can’t imagine not having these two health plans that essentially cover almost all our healthcare costs. 

There are some small co-pays for our prescription refills, but in general my wife and I are recipients of excellent healthcare for very little out of pocket expense. We are among the fortunate ones. 

After we see a physician or need medical services, our USAA supplement sends us a report summary of the physicians’ charges as well as what Medicare and our USAA supplement actually paid for the charges. When I see what the charges were, even as a retired elderly physician, I am somewhat shocked. 

I always wonder how do people without the excellent coverage I have pay these bills out of pocket?

A recent bill shows you what I am referring to. 

This winter while we were in Arizona, I went to a dermatologist because of a lesion smaller than a dime in the hairline in front of my right ear. 

He removed it as well as freezing three small rough spots on my scalp. This took all of 20 minutes. When I got the summary of charges of the dermatologist’s bill, it was $1,778! 

Medicare approved $542.96 of that charge and paid $274.27 of it. The pathologist that examined the tissue specimen charged $628 of which Medicare approved $277 and paid $221.60. I found these charges shocking. 

My main question I asked myself was: “How does a person with no healthcare coverage deal with charges this steep?” 

I’m not talking about neurosurgery or hip replacement either. 

Actually a lot of people without healthcare insurance cannot deal with the cost. They likely forego seeing a physician and hope for the best. 

Many Americans who undergo essential or emergency medical care don’t have many or any options. An estimated 530,000 families turn to bankruptcy each year in this country because of medical issues and bills. In fact, 66 percent of all bankruptcies for families are tied to medical issues whether because of the high costs of care or because of being out of work for medical reasons. 

Most families do not or cannot save for simple emergencies, let alone thousands of dollars for unexpected medical costs. 

A recent Pew Research Center poll found healthcare ranks as a top search reviewed followed by the economy and terrorism. About 70 percent of Americans feel that healthcare costs should be a top priority of the President and Congress.

I googled a list of the counties in the world with universal healthcare. Practically every country in the world has some sort of universal healthcare with one exception, the United States of America. 

This list includes most every European country, most African countries, all north and Central American countries and most South American countries. The list includes most Asian countries plus New Zealand and Australia. 

I know this is a very complex issue but I don’t think it should be a “political” issue as it seems to be in this country. 

Years ago when I visited Australia I interviewed several people about their healthcare. Everyone I talked with was happy with his or her heathcare. 

They all had a basic healthcare for all paid for by the government. If anyone wanted a more complete coverage they were able to purchase a supplemental policy that gave them more ready access to specialists and access to certain specialty hospitals with less waiting for care. 

A good friend of mine from British Columbia told me that he and his wife pay $167 per month for extended health benefits which include most medications and other benefits including therapeutic massage (wouldn’t that be nice).

As far as medications are concerned, the only fee for them is a $10 charge as a dispensing fee by the pharmacist. 

He said not long ago he underwent 20 external beam radiation treatments for cancer and all he paid was $7 per hour for parking when he was getting treated. 

Another friend of mine told me that recently on a trip to England he was running low on a heart medicine. He went to a pharmacist to see if he could get it refilled and he was told only with a prescription. 

The pharmacist gave him the name of a nearby physician who gladly filled the prescription. When he went back to the pharmacy to get it refilled he asked what the bill would be to which the reply was nothing, “we can’t charge for medications.”

Obviously I don’t have a solution or recommendation for this extremely important problem. 

In the last presidential election there was talk about “Medicare for all,” allowing people to buy into our current Medicare program. 

Since private heathcare insurers made $35 billion of profit last year, I don’t think this is something that private insurers would be willing to accept. 

Hopefully for the sake of Americans healthcare consumers, this will change for the better in the future. 

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Craig Garver,MD says:

    Thanks Jim, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of America’s health care crisis. As a member of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), I share your thoughts that Americans deserve access to healthcare without economic barriers . The Medicare for All Act of 2021 (HR1976) is sponsored by the majority of the Democratic caucus.
    Please contact me if you want specific information regarding PNHP Washington which has monthly informational Zoom meetings .
    Sincerely,Craig Garver,MD

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