Chicago Sun-Times

Health Care Reform: An Oxymoron?

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September 26, 2009

CAROL MARIN cmarin@suntimes.com

Early Tuesday morning, sitting in a pre-surgical cubicle dressed in the always-awkward hospital gown, I was waiting to be prepped for a routine colonoscopy.

And thinking about President Obama's mission of revolutionizing health care. And about his mantra of bringing "change we can believe in" to Washington.
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Carol Marin

On my lap was a stack of newspapers. The story that stood out was by David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. It was headlined, "Health Bill Could Hold Reward for 4 Cancer Centers." His report should make our national blood boil enough to tell Barack Obama that all his compromising on health-care reform isn't reforming Washington one iota.

His story line was simple. In exchange for supporting aspects of the Obama health initiative, some members of Congress, including the leadership of the president's own party, want pork. And so, imbedded in the fine print of the 1,000-page-plus legislation, are sweeteners for certain senators who intend to bring home some bacon in exchange for their vote.

The worst example cited was none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He wants to ensure that the Nevada Cancer Institute, a cancer treatment center with no particular national reputation, reaps "a big gain in federal reimbursements as part of the health-care overhaul."

Functionally, it's an "earmark," which Obama railed against during the campaign. Kirkpatrick found a number of them tucked in this so-called reform package, written in a wily way to slip by us taxpayers unnoticed, proposals that "would provide more favorable Medicare payment rates to just a handful of specific medical facilities."

I'd call it a scandal but sadly, it's not. "It's just business as usual," says Lou Weisbach, a multimillionaire Chicago entrepreneur who has been on mission to do something truly revolutionary with our health-care system.

Weisbach, 60, is a voice we should be listening to in this debate. He understands money. Back in 1972, he borrowed $3,500 from his mother and began selling T-shirts out of the trunk on the Northwest Side. It turned into a global promotional products company that spawned other enterprises. Today, he's making millions in the sports stadium business.

But somewhere along the way, health care began to dominate his thinking as he began to ask why, in his lifetime, not a single cure had been found for any major disease.

Weisbach and Dr. Richard Boxer, a urologist and onetime candidate for U.S. surgeon general, started putting their heads together, talking to experts around the world and researching what Congress could do to fundamentally rewire the way we approach health care and disease.

What they came up with was the American Center for Cures, a public-private concept that would not compete with the National Institutes of Health but would complement its work and create a Cabinet-level focus on quickly finding cures.

Right now, we spend about a trillion dollars a year on treating the diseases of between 110 million and 150 million sick Americans, Weisbach argues. We have been reactive, not pro-active.

And clearly, research institutions and treatment centers across the country are not pursuing a unified approach on diseases from diabetes to autism to colon cancer.

Weisbach, a longtime, big-money Democratic fund-raiser, has enlisted bipartisan support for this idea, ranging from former Iowa governor and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and a raft of medical experts. You can find it all at www. theamericancenterforcures.org.

By curing three or four major diseases in the next seven years, Weisbach argues, taxpayers could save $400 billion a year. And businesses would reduce their costs.

Optimistic? Perhaps. But the plan is revolutionary in a time that calls for nothing less.

And it certainly trumps cleverly hiding costly earmarks.

That's old politics. And bad medicine.

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6 Comments

Working at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital for a couple of years early in the 1990’s, I learned something totally unexpected. The military provides very little in the way of salary for its members, but they do provide free total healthcare. I was surprised to learn, then, that most of the officers and NCO’s still bought private health insurance policies, paid for out of their own pockets. That enabled them to go to a private physician out in the community, and not have to sit and wait to be seen by the on-call physician at “sick bay.”

A national single-payer system for everyone in the country should work the same way: anyone could be seen at a clinic or hospital, triaged according to their medical need, and given the care required. Many people – perhaps most – would still buy private insurance, if it were reasonably priced. But for those who did not have the means, a public clinic would be a godsend.

Regarding “physician of choice,” it is important to keep in mind that in every setting there are all types of doctors – brilliant and personable; adequate; and grossly incompetent. And actually, it is rare that anyone sees his own private doctor in an emergency room situation. There are no guarantees in any sector.

A two-tiered system – public for everyone, private for anyone who wants to pay for it – sounds chauvinistic, elitist and class-prejudiced. However, in a free country people should be able to spend their money as they see fit. For those who desire a hospital with luxurious surroundings, glamorously appointed rooms and gourmet menus, they can pay for it. The fact is, they have no better chance of procuring excellent medical care than one of modest means who goes to a public hospital.

Healthcare for everyone, regardless of income or employment, is one of the services a government should provide for its citizens. Surprisingly, there are savings to be had in a publicly financed healthcare plan:

1. On Oct. 1, 2010, the North Chicago VA Medical Center will combine with the Great Lakes Naval Hospital and officially become the James A. Lovell Federal Healthcare Center. This is the model that can be followed, expanded to combine not only VA and military hospitals and clinics, but county and state hospitals and clinics, into a single public healthcare entity. Such a move would eliminate layers of duplicative administrative costs.

2. Veterans and military benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, could be combined into one system. It could be called “MediCompUSA” or just “MediComp” for comprehensive nationwide medical coverage. Once again we would reap the financial benefit of eliminating duplicative administrative costs and bureaucracy. This has the potential to eliminate much of the confusion, paperwork, underpayment and delayed payments by these government bodies, taking the best procedures from each of these systems and devising one far more efficient system.

3. The pharmaceutical industry needs some concessions in order to bring costs down. New potentially excellent drugs can spend 10 years or more in R&D, leaving only a few years for the drug companies to recoup their expenses. For that reason, they charge outrageous prices, spend money on irresponsible advertising, and in some cases push drugs out to the public prematurely, before truly confirming their safety. The drug companies should have more time to reap the profits of their R&D before generics are allowed to jump into the market.

4. Low-cost co-pays can eliminate the potential for abuse of a public healthcare system. Anyone who is ill can scrape together $5, $10, or even $20 to walk into a clinic or ER. People on disability or even homeless individuals are somehow able to find the money to buy cigarettes. Helping all citizens to obtain healthcare cheaply, before they become seriously ill, as well as obtaining preventive healthcare, will save money in the long run.

Subject: Cons on Health Care Plan as proposed

45 % of doctors have indicated they will; retire if this" health care plan " is implemented as Obama and clan desire ! Even if they don't pass this plan...we still will not have as many Dr's or Nurses as needed !!!

Pharmacy is spending huge sums of money to get the plan pushed through as he made a deal with them to make it illegal for us to buy from Canada and other much more reasonable sources. I purchase all of my prescriptions not available at Walmart for the $4 deal from Canada. 1/2 or less in costs. My asthma med Albuterol is $10 instead of $31 .

AARP has sold out on retires because they are going to get rid of Medicare Advantage and force people that had it into AARP's Medigap plan !

$1,000,000 per day is being spent to promote the Obama plan......I wonder where Obama gets this money from ???? lll Where is your wallet ....better ck everyone.

Its not only the time to stand up for your rights..... its almost too late !

Doctors are against HealthCare Reform because they won't be able to send invoices to patients that are excessive high. Insurance companies, doctors, hospitals and so on are already hiking their rates to cover their backsides if and when 'reform' does happen. So sad that Americans can not reach some agreement that ALL AMERICANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO HEALTH CARE ~ not just the rich Americans.

As a physician, I am not surprised in the least.

The President keeps saying that physicians support health care reform. In my experience there is not a single physician I have run into that supports the current health care reform proposals. Although we recognize the need for controlling costs and expanding insurance programs to cover those who are uninsurable or unable to obtain insurance because of inadequate resources, we realize that the government is exceedingly inefficient and makes the process of getting paid (or denied) very time consuming. These impediments are so significant that many physians no longer take medicare patients.

The idea that the president gets support from some representatives in the community through pork inducements, or in other words, "buying them off", does not surprise me in the least. The NEA meeting that took place over the summer recruiting help for pushing this administrations health care and other program in return or "recognition" of the Stimulus package grants fits right in with this theme.

I am one of the 45% of physicians that are planning on retiring if Health Care is taken over by the government.

THE IDEA THAT THE ONLY HEALTHCARE PLAN THAT CAN BE USED IS THE DEMOCRATIC AGENDA WILL LIKELY DESTROY HEALTHCARE AS WE KNOW IT. It, in my opinion may destroy America as we know it. It will certainly change the relationship of the government with its people.

it all sound good but we might be in for a shock. I just hope we don't end up with a plan like this http://www.typobounty.com/Funny/Health_Care_Reform3.htm that could hardly be a solution for anything.

"And clearly, research institutions and treatment centers across the country are not pursuing a unified approach on diseases from diabetes to autism to colon cancer."

This sounds like a good way to kill innovative out of the box approaches that will be the real game changers

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on September 26, 2009 10:34 AM.

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