Blog | Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A health care system to be proud of

I was not able to watch the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony until a few days after it happened. Though we are only half way through the spectacle on our DVR, I was remarkably surprised to find that featured among some of the UK's proud traditions (the Queen, James Bond, Sir Paul McCartney, etc.) was a significant tribute to their national health service, or NHS.

According to the media guide, "The NHS is the institution which more than any other unites our nation." Founded after World War II, the NHS offers universal health care to all of the UK's citizens.

This is not meant to be a post that necessarily supports a government-run, single-payer system or even the Affordable Care Act. Rather, this is simply a musing on "what if" the U.S. had a health care system that we could truly be so proud of that we too thought it worthy of such a national mention. Once can imagine that an opening ceremony in the U.S. would likely feature similar historical events and sources of national pride such as our farmlands, Hollywood, "mountains and prairies," jazz music and maybe even Elvis; but probably not Medicare and Medicaid. Yet, our we really that far off?

We have some of the best trained doctors, most skilled health care workers and the most technologically advanced hospitals in the entire world. People travel from all over just to receive their health care in the U.S. Yet, despite the many marvels of the US health care system; not all of our citizens have access to it, many that do cannot afford it, and the escalating costs of care will likely cause our country to go bankrupt if something is not done.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that we aren't seeing this as a national problem to be solved. Our health care crisis has become so politicized, that nothing seems to be getting done (despite the ACA's passage). Not only have Republicans blocked Democratic health reform initiatives at every step of the way, but also remember that it was in-fighting among Democrats the lead to the failure of passing health care reform with a Democratic controlled House, Senate and Oval Office. In addition, all stakeholders, including doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufactures, patient groups, etc., seem so entrenched in their positions; that no one is willing to budge and nothing appears to be getting any better.

But what if we saw our country's health care crisis as a national priority? What if politicians, stakeholders, and citizens all came together and decided that we as a country needed a solution now and, like "The Manhattan Project" got the greatest minds working together to create a uniquely American solution to health care? Surely that would be worthy of an opening ceremony mention.

I recognize that this vision is likely very unrealistic. However, the way in which the NHS was featured during the Olympic opening ceremonies in London certainly gave me pause, even if just for a moment, to wonder "what if."

Matthew Mintz, MD, is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He is board certified in internal medicine and has been practicing for more than a decade. He is also an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients. This post originally appeared at Dr. Mintz' Blog. Conflict-of-interest disclosures are available here.