Saturday, August 02, 2008

Dr. Bill Roy: "Big Wind, Big Medicine comes to Kansas""

Big Wind, Big Medicine Comes to Kansas
Dr. Bill Roy,
lawyer, physician, congressman
(Ks., 2nd Dist., '70-'74)

The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics will present a program entitled "Reforming the U.S. Health Care System: Supporting the Role of Individuals." The by invitation only event runs from 12:30 to 5:00pm Monday the 4th, and Senator Dole will preside over a series of panels consisting of mostly Midwestern academics, foundation gurus, and health administrators.

This event is sponsored by The Bipartisan Policy Center founded last year and headlining four former U.S. Senate Majority leaders, Republicans Dole and Howard Baker, and Democrats George Mitchell and Tom Daschle. Their salutary goal is to find bipartisan acceptable solutions for problems like energy, environment and health care. And then pass them on to their old colleagues for implementation.

Just as windy Topeka was the first site of oilman T. Boone Pickens’ first public meeting pitching his solutions for America held-hostage by foreign oil, health-conscious Lawrence will be the site of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s first forum on health care.

The role of individual responsibility in protecting one’s own health is not controversial. How to get people to lose weight, exercise, have periodic medical checkups and follow healthy life styles is controversial. It involves questions like how much public money to spend, and the roles reimbursed health care providers should play in educating and supporting individuals.

Every day we see people who are morbidly overweight, and often smoking. We wince at their suffering, projected short life spans and the load they are placing on the health care system. Change such destructive behavior, and America’s health statistics, which aren’t very good, will become much better.

To the extent "the role of supporting individuals" means helping them establish healthy living, the conference can and should have plenty to say.

To the extent "supporting the role of individuals" means helping people prudently shop health insurance and the health care system, agreement is far less likely. Making prudent purchases in our complicated health care milieu is difficult at best and impossible at worst.

To be a bit picky, he program is in part misleading because our country does not have a single health care system to reform. We have many health care systems, the sum of which leaves out 47 million Americans, nearly one in six.

It is a combination of private and public financing and private and public services. Nearly 60% of the cost of American medical care is paid for by government, an amount similar in both proportion and total costs to national systems that guarantee financial access to services for all residents.

We have our own large system of socialized medicine, the bogey man of those who oppose universal coverage.

The federal government pays for a surprisingly well-liked Veterans Health Care System that covers 8 million well-deserved veterans at the costs approaching $40 billion annually. It is 100% socialized medicine; the facilities are owned by the government, and employees are government employees.

Two other government-financed programs cover many of the nation’s neediest citizens. But services are privately provided.

Medicare is a program for the elderly and disabled that has been bastardized by recent Republican congresses, but is still effective and presently irreplaceable. It covers 44 million people at a cost of $374 billion, 13 percent of the federal budget in 2006.

Medicaid is a federal-state financed and state-administered program for the poor and selected children (SCHIP). It has 60 million beneficiaries and costs $300 billion. The government also provides health care for members of the armed services, their dependents, and defined others.

The biggest piece of the entire bizarre system is employment-based health insurance that covers 160 million working people, their families and some retirees. Nearly 10 million individuals and families buy private health insurance, or pay out of pocket.

So nothing is simple. How you gain financial access to health care is decided by your employment, age, health status, financial status, military service, prudence and luck of the draw--all of which change from time to time.

The multiple systems cost $2.2 trillion, one-sixth of the gross national project, and $7000 per person. Costs increase at about twice the growth in the GNP each year.

Dr. Roy may be reached at

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