Monday, November 2, 2009

Gaining Free Health Care, Losing Freedom

One of my brothers suffers from diabetes. He often complains about health care in this country. But you won't find him complaining about its cost. He doesn't complain because he can't get health care. He's a teacher with great insurance and access to all the doctors one could possibly hope for. There are other things to dislike about the health care situation in this country. My brother has told me that his right to life is compromised by the medical community and the governmental restrictions surrounding it.

My brother is upset because he has to ask permission from a doctor to live. He needs a prescription in order to get the medication he needs to survive. He has to get a note from the doctor in order to buy insulin and the needles to inject it. Furthermore, if he is caught with this drug and the needles by agents of the state and can't produce a prescription, he can be arrested, thrown in jail, and the medication and the instruments needed to apply it correctly can be confiscated. There is every possibility this can be tantamount to a death sentence. The onset of diabetic shock can be sudden and can kill quickly. No judge, no jury, no due process, no one held accountable, just a horrible death. While this may not happen that often, I would suggest that it likely happens more often than one may think. It's a big world, many events do not make the news and many more are misreported or misinterpreted. All this leads one to ask, who owns your body anyway?

My brother is an intelligent individual. He knows what his body needs. He can look things up for himself and decide for himself what drugs he should and shouldn't take. Indeed, perhaps the only reason he would go to a doctor would be to get a note that he can give to the pharmacist so he can acquire a drug he has already vetted for himself. He doesn't need a prescription to decide what drugs he needs, but he has to have one because the government says so. But if my brother believes he needs a drug and the doctor disagrees, my brother will not be able to get that drug. There's a problem here. The doctor does not always know what's best. The establishment is not always right and when they are wrong no one is held accountable, even when someone dies.

Case in point, my mother also suffers from diabetes, though her disease is not as bad as my brother's. She does not have to take insulin on a daily basis. She was prescribed Advandia by her doctor. She started having problems with her heart. It would flutter and beat wildly, like an arrhythmia. She went back to her doctor to ask about it and was told not to worry, that the drug was safe. Twice more this happened. Finally she read a book which outlined how diabetes could be controlled with diet. She stopped taking Avandia and started following the diet. Lo and behold, not only did her arrhythmia stop, but her blood sugars were now under control without medication.

In her case, things turned out ok, but it could have been different. She could have died. Had such a thing happened, would anyone have been held accountable? Could anyone at the FDA who was supposed to vet the safety of this drug been held personally responsible? Could the doctor, who was trusting the drug company's claims, could he have been held personally responsible? How about the company CEO, or even one of the board members, could they be held personally responsible? Maybe just a lowly researcher who somehow knew of the possible problems but followed orders from the top not to report them and to fudge the data? Would it have been possible to prove that any of these people were personally negligent or malicious in this case? None of these people can be held personally responsible because a bureaucracy has been built up around them for the purpose of protecting them.

Certainly the company itself might have to pay out on some class action lawsuit, but that's a far cry from holding someone personally responsible. Furthermore, any lawsuits filed are probably going to take years to get through the court system and will likely be settled without ever going to trial. The bulk of the money recovered will be a fraction of the profits the company made and will go to the lawyers. A small portion will go to the actual litigants who were damaged or suffered due to the product. Big, hairy deal. If individuals were to be held accountable for negligence, fraud, deceptive practices and other malfeasance, perhaps we would live in a more honest society and we'd be able to trust once again the people we are supposed to be able to trust.

A frightening consideration is what would happen in the legal sphere if medicine became completely socialized and government completely took over that segment. At that point, any individual at any level of the operation would have nearly complete immunity to prosecution even in cases of negligence or malicious intent. You only have to look to the low numbers of individual police officers who are convicted of wrong doing even when overwhelming evidence shows their actions to be criminal in nature. Even when police departments are sued and found guilty and the victim awarded a large cash settlement, no individual is held accountable. Instead the tax payers who had nothing to do with the incident are left holding the bag as the money paid out comes from them instead of the person or persons who committed the acts which brought the lawsuit. The same thing would happen as doctors become bureaucrats and hospitals become government institutions.

But, I have digressed. Indeed, I find it extremely disturbing as to just how litigious this society has become. As my mother's example has shown, we should all become personally responsible for our own health care decisions. We should stop handing over such responsibility to the government or even our personal physicians. In a free society, many more people would understand this concept. If all options were open and there were no restrictions as to what kind of treatments were available to us for our various maladies, we would more or less be forced to explore all possibilities ourselves in order to be better informed. We would want to know and weigh the benefits, dangers and side effects of medications before deciding whether we should take them or not.

The only thing that should be required to protect drug companies, professionals and others involved in the medical industry from prosecution, in such a society, would be full disclosure and honesty right up front. If something was being tested, for instance, and the side effects and safety issues were unknown, then just say so and let consumers decide for themselves whether they wanted to take such a risk and participate in such a trial. If there is any attempt to deceive the consumer or to hide facts or test results, then those practices should be exposed to the general public and restitution paid to anyone who was harmed due to such deception. Dishonesty and deception should lead to distrust and bankruptcy whereas honesty and openness should lead to trust and increased profits.

At the same time, government restrictions on information that should be readily available to the general public need to be lifted. Studies that have been done that highlight the health benefits of certain nutritional habits, vitamins, natural remedies and natural medications have been buried by government entities and ignored by corporate media because they threaten to cut into the profits of the medical establishment and others including big pharmacological companies, health insurance companies, large food producing companies and other corporations one wouldn't think had anything to do with the health industry. Doctors who have studied and written about alternative and natural medicines have been gagged by federal government authorities. There have been doctors arrested and their offices or clinics raided for such practices despite the fact that many of their patients were being cured and healing from their illnesses, even cancer. In fact, it is likely that they were arrested because they were helping patients as this threatens the legitimacy of the medical establishment. Of course, those carrying out such raids on these doctors will make the claim that they were practicing medicine without a license or carrying out procedures that have not been approved by the FDA or some other federal agency.

What difference does that matter if people are being helped? Who are these people to decide what is right for me or you or anyone else? When such a practitioner is arrested or shut down it does more than just harm the doctor, it harms the patients who were voluntarily coming there because they were being helped to the point where some of them may even die because other remedies do not or will not work for them. In essence, a death sentence has been handed down to some of these patients for the crime of trying to cure their illness in a way not sanctioned by the establishment medical community.

If information was readily available and restrictions against alternative medicines lifted, it would be much easier for people to educate themselves about health care and make their own decisions on the procedures, medications and remedies they wish to try. It would be much easier for people to see what has worked for others and what has not. As a bonus, the competition this would create would likely bring down the costs of health care dramatically. Of course, this would end the medical monopoly we already have in this nation and mean much less money for those who benefit from the system as it is, including politicians who receive money from medical lobbyists, so these changes are unlikely to occur unless populist pressure is applied to keep the government out of our lives.

Health care should be the responsibility of the individual. It is not free and never will be even if government convolutes the issue with claims of good intention. Someone will always have to pay and the more restrictive something becomes, the more hands the money has to pass through, the more expensive it becomes. Why anyone would want to trust government, which consistently fails miserably at everything it touches, to intervene in our health care system is beyond me. It needs to get out and leave us alone so that we can once again create the best health care the world has to offer in an unfettered marketplace. The government bureaucracies that exist have become cesspools of corruption, cronyism, greed, apathy and stagnation. Why would anyone think it would be different for a health bureaucracy? To give even more control to such agencies will surely lead to an unimaginable lose of independence.

The health care bill presented to congress to be voted on this week is nineteen hundred pages long. I doubt very much anyone who would foist this legislation on the American people has read it. I know no one could possibly understand it and all its implications. This is a monstrosity much like the Patriot Act and other Bush era bills that so many railed against. I'm sure that some in our society will benefit, but I fear that most will simply pay higher taxes and perhaps an even greater price for unused or unwanted services and so that more money and power can be put into the hands of fewer people. Who knows what's really in the bill? Likely it merely asserts to an even greater extent their ownership of your body. I do know that I'm tired of hearing excuses from our politicians as unpopular aspects of legislation come to light after the fact when it is too late and the legislation has been implemented. Some may gain free health care, but we will all lose more freedom.

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