Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't tell me the health care system doesn't work.

I have been following the news on health care reform. Today, for example, the NY Times reported on President Obama's speech to the AMA. The president told the physicians' group, "Today, we are spending over $2 trillion a year on health care – almost 50 percent more per person than the next most costly nation. And yet, for all this spending, more of our citizens are uninsured; the quality of our care is often lower; and we aren't any healthier. In fact, citizens in some countries that spend less than we do are actually living longer than we do...Make no mistake: the cost of our health care is a threat to our economy. It is an escalating burden on our families and businesses." He even blamed the high costs of health care for, of all things, the GM collapse.

An editorial in that same newspaper is titled, "Doctors and the Cost of Care" and it is among the most e-mailed articles on the NY Times website. Among other things it says, "There is disturbing evidence that many (doctors) do a lot more than is medically useful — and often reap financial benefits from over-treating their patients. No doubt a vast majority of doctors strive to do the best for their patients. But many are influenced by fee-for-service financial incentives and some are unabashed profiteers." It tells readers, after reporting on a study in McAllen, Texas, "Doctors have been complicit in driving up health care costs. They need to become part of the solution."

As someone who worked in health care for twenty years, and who is a parent who recently saw his nine-year old son treated for heart repair, I have an informed, and at the same time admittedly prejudiced, view of health care in America. I think it's great. I think most of its doctors are above reproach.

How great is in health care in America? Imagine - replacing someone's face. Imagine - replacing someone's severed hand. Imagine - stopping a baby's tiny heart, operating on it, and re-starting it to save that baby's life.

How hard is that? We are told that our hearts are the size of our fist. Think, then, of a newborn baby and the size of its fist...and its heart. Think of operating on that tiny and life-giving organ. When my son was born with a heart abnormality nine years ago, Dr. Frank Pigula saved his life by stopping it, repairing it, and re-starting it. I have seen open heart surgery, yet I can't imagine doing what Dr. Pigula did.

Dr. Pigula operated on my son again, last month, using a similar procedure to stop my son's heart, get inside it, repair one valve and place a porcine valve where one didn't exist, and then re-start his heart and his life. Dr. Pigula has now given my son a better life on three occasions. I can't imagine ever telling him that he makes too much money or that he orders too many tests. On the other hand, I admired his thoroughness and attention to detail. It has had a significant bearing on my son's recovery and will affect the rest of his life.

This same Dr. Pigula recently served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, leaving his wife, three children and a good income to help the people of that country, one of whom was a small child who was shot by accident by her little brother (and not by an American soldier). You can read about him here:

I thank God that Dr. Pigula survived his tour of Afghanistan. He operated on my son four weeks ago and now my son stands beside me as I type, growing healthier and stronger every day. He wants on this computer so he can google Transformers, Bionicles, Halo, and Star Wars stuff. Later when we take a shower together because he is not yet allowed to take a bath, I will see the raw, red scar that runs straight down the middle of his chest to his stomach and I will be reminded of both the horror of such operations and the miracle of his recovery. I will see Dr. Pigula standing in front of me at Children's Hospital of Boston telling my wife and me that Nickie's surgery went well and that he will have a full recovery. I will see evidence of the greatness of health care in America in the eyes of that humble, dedicated and talented man.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ed,

    Wow, this is an amazing blog. You've brought quite a bit of experience to bear that I never knew about. I hope your son's surgeries go well.

    This particular post has some topic problems. You bring together two arguments that are on different subjects, and present one as the refutation of the other. Obama is talking about cost and the billing system; you're talking about quality and personal experience.

    As a writing professor, you wouldn't have let me get away with this. :-)

    I hope you are well.

    Eric Ruthford