Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why We Need Universal Health Care

The threat to life and liberty is not limited to an opponent with a gun or a bomb. The threat to life and liberty also involves economic disparity and, just as importantly, impaired health. It is absurd to give exclusive and excessive funding to military institutions and arms manufacturers when the very infrastructure and health of the country’s citizens crumbles away. It should be realized that the premise of maintaining a functioning military is exactly the same as maintaining the infrastructure of a modern medical system.

In the late medieval days, barber-surgeons provided their own instruments to perform procedures, as questionable as those procedures might be, and, as alchemy and medicine advanced, the equipment necessary to carry out procedures was not beyond the financial means of individuals who practiced those arts. Yet still, medicine itself remained a rudimentary excursion into the repair of human physiology. Advances in technology and the education of medical specialists have given us a much better ability, during the late 20th and into the 21st centuries, to correctly identify and rectify various pathologies associated with infectious diseases, traumatic injuries, age-related disabilities, congenital defects, and genetic predispositions to disease. But these technologies and the requirement for well-trained medical specialists are expensive. With the possible exception of multi-millionaires and billionaires, the new costs of modern medical advances are well beyond the means of any single individual. Accuracy in diagnosis often depends on the use of these technologies and, in many cases, the confluence of multiple technologies and specialists. Yet, the use of our medical infrastructure, to solve these medical problems, is severely inhibited by strictly monetary concerns – concerns of the insurance companies and hospital business administrations. Ultimately, profiteering from the misery and sickness of people is deplorable.

We would hardly expect individual citizens or even local communities to purchase military tanks and helicopters for their own defense. Yet the cost of buying technologies, such as MRIs and constructing rooms for them, as well as employing the specialists that extrapolate treatments from the results, quickly match the real world costs of tanks and helicopters. So instead, we use a shared cost approach – federal taxes - to alleviate the economic burden of national defense on individuals or local communities. This approach must also be used in health care.

Forget the movie Sicko and instead realize that we are long past the days of quaint remedies, simple country doctors, and copper surgical cutlery. We are in the age of MRIs and NMRs and of organ transplants and cancer neutralization. We live in the reality of sophisticated artificial body parts, DNA mapping, targeted pharmaceuticals, and vastly extended life spans. These are not things that come from the local grocer. These are serious, hardcore technologies. Even more so, they were created from our collective, historical medical infrastructure. And the medical professionals that employ them in diagnosis and treatment have made very serious life commitments to the field. All of this constitutes a modern health system infrastructure so vast and expansive that it should be maintained at a governmental level, just as the military infrastructure is, to ensure life and liberty – and the pursuit of happiness – to every taxpaying citizen.

- Just a peasant

Photo of an MRI brain map using Diffusion Tensor Imaging from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Pictures like this help neurosurgeons plan for tumor resection or trauma repair inside the brain. Welcome to the 21st century.