Let’s rebuild our health care system

The following scenario is purely hypothetical, but it could one day happen to you. Or me.

You become afflicted with some type of medical condition. You go to your family doctor. He refers you to a specialist.

Is that specialist chosen because she is the best available in her field? Or is she chosen because she is in the same physicians group that your family doctor is in?

The specialist arranges for you to report to a hospital to have surgery. Is that hospital chosen because it has the best track record in the market for that particular kind of surgery? Or is that hospital chosen because it’s one of the few the specialist can refer you to, due to the restrictions of hospital networks.

And what about cost considerations?

Then there are insurance ramifications. You’ll need to go where your insurance will cover your care.

So, you are seeing a specialist and undergoing surgery, and the decisions as to what care you receive and when and where you receive it are being determined by contracts between physicians groups, hospitals and insurance companies.

And then the bill comes. If you’re employed by a company that uses health savings accounts (HSAs), you’ve been putting money aside each week. But you will be shocked to see how quickly one night stay in a hospital can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Your deductible will be thousands of dollars.

No wonder medical costs have become the leading cause of consumer bankruptcies in the United States.

As Small Business Times began conducting research for a special report on “The Realities of Canadian Health Care,” one Canadian businesswoman was shocked, absolutely shocked, to learn that so many millions of Americans have no health care insurance. She was shocked, absolutely shocked, to learn that medical bills were causing such hardships on American consumers.

“You mean, a couple could work their whole lives, and then one of them gets sick, and they get big medical bills and they lose everything they saved their whole lives for?” she asked. “That’s just wrong. That’s just doesn’t sound American to me.”

Indeed.

This is not to say the Canadian universal care, one-payer system does not have flaws. It has many. That’s why many Canadians are forced to come to America when they need various medical procedures done in a timely manner.

But somewhere in between their system and our system could lie a hybrid, a system that could assure basic, efficient care for all citizens while retaining the incentives and creativity of the American private marketplace.

A system where an illness does not destroy the American dream.

It’s time to become educated on the issue of health care reform. We need all ideas on the table. We need to rethink the entire system. American companies and consumers cannot compete in a global economy when our health care costs are so out of whack, compared with those in the rest of the free world.

Consider the fact that more than $1 billion in new medical buildings are currently being constructed in southeastern Wisconsin.

Something’s got to give. For proof of the urgency, one need look no further than the automotive industry, where American companies are trying to compete against foreign companies that have much lower employee health care costs.

It’s time to start over and build a new system from the ground up. The Healthy Wisconsin plan is one proposal. It may or may not be the answer. But let’s have this discussion, and let’s reform this system.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times. For more about the “Realities of Canadian Health Care,” visit www.biztimes.com.

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