Health, American style

er-waiting-roomWelcome to the United States, one of the world’s richest countries, with big centers of medical research, fantastic glittering hospitals, and federally funded programs for developing exciting new drug treatments to address thorny medical problems!

There are some catches, of course; the drugs that come out of that taxpayer funded research are sold back to the taxpayers by private businesses charging the highest prices in the world. And access to those hospitals and doctors is mediated by a group of large for-profit companies who create a complex layer of rules about who gets what, and who can best maximize value for their shareholders by avoiding paying for medical care.

Still, they’re better than the alternative, which is GoFundMe.

Take a quick browse through the medical section of GoFundMe and check out the top trending stories: a young mother in Rhode Island with cancer who’s raised almost $60,000; or an elderly musician in Houston who’s brought in $24,000 to help with congestive heart failure. Each of these stories promoted on the site have something in common: a hook compelling enough to get attention.

Here’s another one real quick because we could fill the entire newspaper with stories like these. Hedda Elizabeth Britt, a 60 year-old Michigan woman who I wrote about back in November, is waiting for a heart transplant. It’s a position she is exceptionally fortunate to be in, relatively speaking, because the committee at Spectrum Health Richard DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Clinic originally told her she would not be placed on the waiting list because she was too poor to save.

Does this system keep our costs down? No, we pay double per capita what our peers in Europe pay for healthcare. Does that at least make us really healthy? No, our outcomes are, by all public health measures, mediocre. (Here in Texas pregnant women suffer the highest rate of maternal death in the industrialized world.)

This is not a health care system; it’s a health care business. with gatekeepers whose interests aren’t served by actually making people healthy.

Luke O’Neill, the author of the Boston Globe op-ed linked above, is pissed off about it, and his question is, why aren’t you? 

He leads with the story of Shane Patrick Boyle, a Houstonian who died from complications from diabetes; his GoFundMe fell $50 short of payday, and then he died. He was probably up against some really sad and sexy health crises. But in a weird coda to all this, the GoFundMe for a memorial for him and his recently deceased mother reached it goal. Apparently his death was the element that made his story compelling enough for people to open up their wallets and give.

And that’s how we do things in the USA.

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