Life as an Extreme Sport

The Daily: Health Care ‘Miracle’

As I have mentioned, briefly, I am writing an opinion column for The Daily this quarter. It’s good experience for me; it gives me a chance to hit weekly deadlines and see immediate results for making those deadlines. It also forces me to stretch my thinking and writing, and work within word limit boundaries.

It’s also an important career move. Bioethicists commonly write for local papers, either doing op-ed’s, or running series. In fact, many of the people I’ll be working with next year have long-running series with various major newspapers around the country. One of my favourite souls, Greg Pence, who’s down at the University of Alabama, collected his newspaper opinion columns into a book recently. I believe Jon Moreno (University of Virginia) might have done similar. And of course, Art Caplan (UPenn) is one of the most prolific writers in the industry. So, this is good for me; I’m building a portfolio, and hopefully will be able to convince the campus paper folks at SUNY-A to allow me to continue the fun.

But enough digression and set-up. This is the link to my first story, which I’m also including here. In the future, I’ll publish my stories in this blog a week after they print.

Health care ‘Miracle’
Publish Date: 2006-03-28

A quarter of Americans have either no health coverage, or very lousy coverage.

For years now, doctors have complained that people without access to preventative care have been flooding emergency rooms for basic health care, clogging the system when emergent cases actually do arrive.

And what’s the solution to this growing medical crisis or low or no coverage? Why, reality television, of course.

The television station that likes to promote itself as producing reality TV with heart, ABC, has brought us a new show, Miracle Workers, which airs Monday nights at 10 p.m.

According to the show’s Web site, every week Miracle Workers features two people “who do not have the network, access to the necessary medical community or in some cases the resources” to the needed medical procedures.

So far, the show has featured surgery to restore a blind man’s sight, several spinal surgeries, electrical stimulation therapy to treat Tourette’s Syndrome, and laser-guided hip replacement surgery.

But what might be worse than what the show features is what the show implies — that the only sexy and exciting medicine is the medicine that occurs on the frontiers: that which is not available to everyone, but only those blessed with fairy godparents masquerading as ABC executives.

According to professor Rick Carlson of the UW School of Public Health, we have spent $15 trillion on health care in the last 10 years. That’s $1.5 trillion a year, still resulting in a full quarter of our population without adequate health coverage. Yet, we still have people turning to the benevolent producers at ABC in order to receive necessary medical treatment.

Of course, medicine is a business, as is television.

Obviously it was assumed these were two great ideas that would work even better together. But when medicine begins competing with television to provide medical services to people in need, the only clear conclusion we can draw is that reform is necessary.

The next time you need to see the doctor, or have some surgery or other medical procedure done, ask yourself whether or not you’re pretty, sexy, compelling or charismatic enough to be picked out of a flood of applicants to receive that necessary care. And if not, what’s your back-up plan? Are you willing to play the one-in-four odds of not getting coverage?

Carlson notes that “real reforms must ask very different questions about our values, and our goals and aspirations.”

So we need to ask ourselves: do we want medical care to continue becoming a theatre of entertainment, something you should be lucky to receive? Or do we want to step up to the plate, take that $1.5 trillion a year, and guarantee at least a basic level of care for everyone?

It’s our call – how do you feel about those odds?