By Nina Mold
In his November 26th letter to the Editor, Dr. Jay Wolff makes comparisons between survival rates and medical wait times in countries with single-payer health care systems and the United States.
His letter is, at best, naïve, and, at worst, grossly misleading.
The comparisons made were based on figures obtained from medical records of those who were actually diagnosed and treated. If you factored in the millions of Americans who die each year because they cannot afford health insurance, the figures would be very different. For example, if 100 people receive radiation therapy in the United Kingdom, it is because they need it and receive it regardless of income level. In America, the recipients are those who have the required health insurance coverage. Those who can’t afford insurance will not enter into the equation.
I worked in my native England for 35 years before coming to America in 2004, all the while paying my National Insurance contributions of roughly 5 percent of my income. During that time I had four live births and two miscarriages. My youngest was delivered by emergency C-section and was immediately diagnosed with a rare syndrome that causes fluid on the brain.
Under the care of an eminent pediatric neurosurgeon, she had several major operations, the first when she was just nine days old, which relived the pressure on her brain and saved her life.
Doctors told us her balance would be severely affected and that she was unlikely to ever walk. However, after years of intensive therapy by skilled and dedicated professionals, she took her first independent steps at six years of age. Today, she is a healthy and active young woman who is about to be married. We did not pay one penny out of pocket for the wonderful care our daughter received. Here, a consultation with a pediatric neurosurgeon costs upwards of $500. She was 11 when we came to America and did not qualify for health insurance because of her pre-existing condition. Thanks to new legislation, that is no longer the case
Dr. Wolff stated that detractors of the American health care system never back up their arguments with objective facts. Well, one objective fact is that if we had been in the U.S. when our daughter was born, we could have realistically expected to lose our home. Another fact is that 90 percent of bankruptcies in the U.S. are caused by the inability to pay medical expenses.
Many Americans worry that a national health system would mean they would be paying for the medical care of others, but they should consider these points:
When you pay for personal insurance and do not become sick during the term of the policy, your money goes into the coffers of the insurance company. It’s your taxes that go to provide health care for the uninsured. Under a single payer system, your unused contributions could be used to save the life of a child like mine. Isn’t that infinitely preferable? Furtherrmore, should catastrophe strike you or your loved ones, the contributions of others could make the difference between life and death.
All the statistics quoted by Dr. Wolff have to be taken in context. In the UK, Canada and other countries with a single-payer system, 100 percent of the population has access to quality health care. In America, many millions do not have that luxury. I’m sure those people would find waiting for treatment or surgery preferable to no treatment at all.
The old system of purchasing one’s own health insurance is not sustainable because it’s discriminatory, expensive and rife with fraud. The Affordable Health Care Act is not the answer, although it’s a step in the right direction. The answer is everyone who is working paying into the pot, and those in need taking out as the need arises. After all, we won’t all be sick at the same time, and the one thing guaranteed to exacerbate your fear when you are struck down by an illness or accident is the prospect of financial ruin.