Defining Terms in the Healthcare Debate

There’s a weekly talk radio show in St Louis that airs every Saturday morning. The host is a practicing physician, and on a recent show, he took a call from a listener who roundly criticized Obamacare. Given the unpopularity of the President’s signature domestic policy agenda, that type of call is hardly news. The good doctor, himself no friend of government intrusion, inadvertently included a brief point in his response that should give everyone in the debate pause.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the doctor’s immediate reaction was to remind the caller, that for all of Obamacare’s deficiencies, the previous system had produced “health care that was too expensive!” If I could have broken in to the conversation, I would have asked the doctor one simple question: “Do you think you’re overpaid?”

This isn’t meant as an attack on the earnings of physicians. It is intended to illustrate the folly of the broad generalizations that are routinely thrown about in the  healthcare debate. For example, when  politicians, the media, and even doctors complain about the high cost of prescription drugs, exactly what do they mean? Are they citing specific drugs as overpriced, charging that too many prescriptions are being written, or claiming that pharmaceutical manufacturers are deliberately gouging customers? Part of the problem is that health care is such a complex system, few of us will ever be knowledgeable about more than just a small part of it. How do you debate an issue when no one knows what, exactly, the issue is?

It’s my contention that most politicians, many members of the media, and lots of folks susceptible to the siren song of blaming someone else, don’t want a debate on the issues. It’s far easier to place blame on something, or someone else, for the failure of a unchallenged assumption. What true believer in corporate conspiracies wants to consider the value of a $70,000 treatment regimen that cures a serious medical condition, and obviates a potential $500,000 liver transplant some years down the road? Unfortunately, it’s far easier, and more beneficial to the claimant’s campaign, to just call the treatment costs “outrageous” and demand penance and a pound of flesh from the accused.

It’s probably a pipe dream, but maybe, just maybe, the loud advocates of conventional wisdom could be asked to cite examples of the outrages they decry. No more bland statistics, or the even worse, “studies have shown” pronouncements that lack reference or citation. We could have a real, national discussion re the value of different aspects of the health care system, and a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. This is a debate that directly affects every one of us. At the very least, let’s make sure it’s an honest one.

Copyright 2015  Raymond T Kyle