by Joe Kirkpatrick
Recently, Gary Riggins wrote a letter to The Cleveland Daily Banner concerning the need for affordable HealthCare in the United States. He cited in his article the much less costs of HealthCare in Africa and Thailand. While I agree there is certainly a need for affordable HealthCare here, I will also show why it is impossible.
Please understand the problem with HealthCare reform is not "A" problem, but in fact a collection of many problems. The first and most glaring problem is malpractice. We live in a country that probably has the highest regard for a person's rights in the world. We don't want anyone to suffer at the hands of another, and should that happen, we want them to be compensated monetarily. Bottom line is, economically, you cannot pay out huge legal expenses and malpractice awards and ever have affordable HealthCare.
Gary Riggins cited Thailand as an example of a country that has low cost health care. Last year in Thailand, just 300 malpractice lawsuits were filed, and there, the law limits awards to actual damages. There is no "pain and suffering" awards whatsoever, and most physicians don't even carry malpractice insurance.
In comparison, in the US, the top malpractice attorney alone, James Sokolove, has over 10,000 open cases at any given time. The average American physician pays over $100,000 per year for malpractice insurance. The average preparation of legal costs for an average malpractice case in the US is $20,000 - $50,000. In a complex case, it can cost over $100,000. In the US, only 17% of malpractice lawsuits go to a jury trial. The vast majority are dismissed or settled out of court. However, even if the case is dismissed, the legal fees involved in those cases are astronomical.
The next problem is drug costs in the US. Why are prescription drugs much higher here than in countries like Thailand and India? Once again, you can hardly watch an evening of television without seeing at least one commercial from a law firm trying to solicit your business to join in a class action lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company. There again, you cannot have virtually unlimited lawsuits and low drug costs.
In the US, labor costs are more than 1/2 of a hospital or doctors operating expenses. In all other countries of the world combined, physicians earn 40% less, and nurses almost 75% less than here. Other maintenance personnel such as orderlies and custodians are paid much less as well. One surgeon in the US I spoke with has six full time employees just to handle all the paperwork required by the insurance companies.
Now, we come to the worst part: The uninsured in the US pay more for their HealthCare than the insured. WHAT? I will say it once more, the uninsured pay more for HealthCare than the insured. In the US HealthCare system, just like any other business, there is "retail" and "wholesale" costs. In the US, the average costs for heart bypass surgery is $210,842. The average cost to your insurance company if you have coverage is $94,277, a discounted rate of almost 60%. If you are uninsured and cannot pay the $210,842, you do without. By the way, the average cost of heart bypass surgery in India is $10,000, and in Thailand it is $12,000.
In summary, I, like Gary, think it is deplorable to not be able to make affordable HealthCare available to every American. However, without throwing out our country's passion for human rights by severely restricting malpractice lawsuits against the medical and pharmaceutical industries, real HealthCare reform remains an economic impossibility.